Ohio school to start International Baccalaureate program

Claire Foltz is excited that multiple-choice tests are becoming somewhat passé at Glen Oak High School in Ohio. Foltz and her classmates will soon be able to enroll in International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, which aim “to develop lifelong learners who think globally and act locally to create a better and more peaceful world,” reports CantonRep.com.
Glen Oak High School has gone through a three-year process of preparing to become an IB school because of the way that it forms and shapes learners and citizens. The school is only one of 22 in Ohio that offer the program, and part of an international community of 2,500 IB schools.
CantonRep.com says that the main difference between IB and traditional classes revolves around the methods through which students are “demonstrating knowledge.” Traditional classes frequently rely on students regurgitating information to determine whether they’ve reached a certain level of mastery. IB classes ask students to go deeper, researching topics and applying that learning to their local community.
At Glen Oak, the IB classes will allow students to demonstrate knowledge through oral presentations, large research papers, and completion of community service projects. Foltz described her excitement with the transition: ““I like to be able to explain myself and I like presentations . . . so I think it’s going to be a lot more effective for me. I think it’s a good change.”
Classes will be offered across the spectrum of academic content, including: “varying levels of English, French and Spanish, global politics, biology and physics and varying levels of math, music and visual arts.”
Administrators at Glen Oak are excited about the benefits that IB classes will have for students beyond their time in the classroom. Emily Palmer, the program’s coordinator, feels that by exposing students to a more robust learning process they are better prepared to become lifelong learners. She said the goal is to have students, “believe in the heart of IB, which is to create a better world.”
In The Content of Their Character, Notre Dame sociologist David Sikkink describes the IB model as “built on a broad and demanding liberal arts curriculum that includes ‘language acquisition’ and study of ‘individuals and societies,’ both of which help encourage an awareness of cultures worldwide. The program also requires the completion of an independent research essay and a service project.”
The IB model provides coherence for the work of a school beyond granting diplomas. Through its required capstone project, students must build the skills of independent inquiry. Sikkink says that the IB students studied in the School Cultures and Student Formation Project at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture had to “be experts at managing their own time, since they were urged to maintain high academic performance in a very rigorous program.” The required service project can form dispositions of social concern that extend beyond the school walls.
Glen Oak anticipates that the IB program will draw families and students that are committed to this model of learning and service. Already, they have students and families who are excited about pursuing the character and skills outlined in the IB learner profile.
The IB learner profile is helpful to educators in defining the qualities that they seek in their students—and then matching their curriculum and pedagogy to those goals.  It is also useful in helping a school determine whether it should offer the IB program.

Creating global citizens through adventure

Students at Staten Island’s Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School learn citizenship by expeditions—to a mayor’s town hall meeting, Freshkills Park, or even abroad. Thirty-one students will travel with four teachers this month to London, Berlin, Paris, and Normandy as they learn about World War II.

Principal Tracey Frey says, “We’re creating global citizens” by leading students on expeditions where they learn by doing.

Expeditions develop life skills, Frey explains. In a foreign city, for example, students learn how to check into a hotel, navigate the public transportation system, and handle currency.

Frey herself learned by doing—working in the office of then-Mayor Ed Koch, then at the New York Public Library, the Staten Island Symphony, and the Staten Island Botanical Garden before joining the Department of Education as a teacher. She later became an assistant principal, and then principal of McCown in 2009.

“In Advanced Placement biology, students are studying the effects of opioids on cells, and will present their findings to the borough president and the district attorney on March 1,” according to Staten Island Real-Time News.

The experience of learning in the context of research, travel, and advocacy requires students to take responsibility for their learning. Responsibility is at the core of McCown’s focus on building character—specifically creativity, honesty, humor, respect, and responsibility.

“McCown graduates leave with a moral compass to make a mark and make a difference.”

As an Expeditionary Learning (EL) school, McCown is committed to a distinct pedagogy (a theory of teaching and learning) that guides its work, which in turn rests on a theory of persons. Notre Dame sociologist David Sikkink studied schools like McCown for the School Cultures and Student Formation Project at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture to understand how these unique schools provide their students with a moral compass. He writes in The Content of Their Character, “These were not rudderless institutions. Each had a fairly explicit understanding of student formation goals, which to a large extent were an outgrowth of an alternative vision of the educational task.”

The practices of McCown—giving responsibility to students and immersing them in the learning experiences—do indeed leave their mark and prepare them as citizens.

Expeditionary Learning was born from a collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Outward Bound USA. EL Education offers a variety of resources to teachers and administrators, from curriculum to a path to certification as an EL school.

High school student interns at Deloitte, sets the stage for his future

When Gregory Damas entered Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School four years ago, he immediately went to work, and the years of internship experience he’s racked up—at the city’s mayor’s office and prestigious accounting firms—is setting him up nicely for his future.

“How many high school students do you know get four internships in four years of high school before they even step foot on a college campus? So that’s insane,” Damas told the Catholic Digest. “I worked at Comcast my freshman year, the mayor’s office of Philadelphia my sophomore year, PricewaterhouseCoopers’ my junior year, and right now (I) work at Deloitte.”

The experience is part of a corporate work-study requirement that makes the Cristo Rey Catholic school unique, both in how it’s financed and the hands-on, real world experiences it offers students. What began as an idea in 1996 to offset the cost of tuition for low income Catholic students in Chicago has become a recipe for success that’s since spawned 32 schools in 21 states and the District of Columbia that make up the Cristo Rey Network.

Catholic Digest reports:

According to Genster, the fundamentals of the Cristo Rey model that contribute to its track record of success revolve around four critical elements: Each Cristo Rey school is authentically Catholic; they have a to-and-through college focus; they offer a rigorous college-preparatory education; and they integrate academics with four years of professional workplace experience through a corporate work-study program.

The corporate work-study program is the defining element that makes the Cristo Rey model unique. Each Cristo Rey student works a full day each week at a local business in an entry-level position, and in turn the business pays the salary to the school to offset the cost of tuition.

In Philadelphia, Catholic school officials shuttered Damas’ former elementary school when he was in the 4th grade, only to walk back into the same building—re-envisioned as Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School—five years later.

He is one of 470 students from low-income families in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey, at Cristo Rey, and he’s now applying to Villanova, Drexel, Georgetown, and Fordham universities, to study accounting and financial consulting.

“Many of the students come not recognizing or (they’re) thinking small about what their potential is. If we can help them see that they have enormous potential, enormous talents, and enormous potential to develop themselves—and to develop other students in their class,” said John McConnell, a concerned Catholic who helped to bring the Cristo Rey Network to the city. “That’s when they start to super-accelerate their development.”

The network’s 9,000 students worked with 2,000 businesses in healthcare, law, government, and finance to earn $45 million in 2014 alone, though Cristo Rey Network president Jane Genster points out the experience can be priceless.

The on-the-job training “reinforces both the cognitive and the non-cognitive ability found in the classroom. It demystifies the world outside their neighborhoods,” she said. “It helps teach them 21st-century job skills and expectations, and the why of higher education, and career doors that professional opportunities open to them.”

The unique approach at Cristo Rey schools is what Notre Dame sociologist David Sikkink refers to as “alternative pedagogy” in The Content of Their Character, which summarizes findings from the School Cultures and Student Formation Project at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

Schools using alternative pedagogy examined by Sikkink shared “a distinctive organization and distinctive practices and orientations that generated a particular context for student moral and civic formation,” while offering “a fairly explicit understanding of student formation goals, which to a large extent were an outgrowth of an alternative vision of the educational task.”

That seems to be the case at Cristo Rey, where McConnell said the “goal is not really to graduate from high school. It’s not even to get into college. And frankly it’s not even just to graduate from college,” he said. “Our goal is to recognize and realize our full potential. That’s a really lofty goal.”

And it’s one Damas seems to embrace. The Catholic Digest reports that he “hopes to give back for all the mentoring he’s received by teaching kids how to manage their finances.”

Internships.com provides a clearinghouse for school officials to help students identify and apply for a wide variety of internship opportunities.

This school requires students to lead in learning

At the Denver School of Innovation, high schooler Amida Nigena is responsible for getting her work done—and for figuring out what the work is. DSI, like a handful of innovative schools, pushes its students to take responsibility for learning.

In most high schools, everyone travels at roughly the same pace, regardless of aptitude or interest. Some schools are resisting that trend, and in doing so are establishing school cultures that require students to engage rather than requesting them to engage, reports The 74 Million.

At first, “I hated the school,” Nigena said. “The first year was really rough on everyone. We were just thrown in. We didn’t know what personalized learning was, and neither did our teachers.”

Principal Lisa Simms agreed.  “We hired 10 teachers who were rock stars in a traditional setting, she said. But the approach was so new the staff had to start with such basics as establishing a common vocabulary. For example, it was hard to even find a definition of competence. “What does it mean to be competent? How do you show mastery?”

It is the unconventional practices of these schools that make them stand out. James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson, editors of The Content of Their Character, a study of school culture and student formation from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, frame the importance of practices this way: “The moral and missional ethos of a school [is] reinforced through a range of practices, or routinized actions—some formal, some informal—all oriented toward giving tangible expression to the school’s values and beliefs.”

Many pioneering pedagogical schools don’t have a “character” mission. What unifies them is their passion to give “expression to the school’s values and beliefs.” In the case of DSI, Amida Nigena says that the experience of being required to take responsibility for her learning was frustrating at first, but, “It’s taught me to be patient and to persevere, and also that it’s OK to fail. That process has really changed me, especially when things don’t go exactly well.”

That is precisely the power of formative institutions with a clear “missional ethos . . . reinforced through a range of practices.” Those practices, in turn, shape students’ confidence and competence in learning and in life.

Practices take practice. They require a commitment to culture. Schools that are developing or considering unconventional approaches can consult Michael Niehoff’s recommendations for creating and cultivating school culture.

SC Montessori schools outperform their peers

A study of South Carolina’s public Montessori schools shows students outperformed their peers across demographic groups in reading and math, but the results also revealed something more important.

An Evaluation of Montessori Education in South Carolina’s Public Schools, funded by the state’s Education Oversight Committee and the Self Family Foundation, found students in the state’s nearly 50 Montessori schools not only scored six to eight percentage points higher on state tests, they “also bested their non-Montessori peers in the soft skills inherent to Montessori education: creativity, good behavior, and independence,” The74Million reports.

The study collected information between 2012 and 2016—principal surveys, 126 unannounced observations, state testing data, attendance and disciplinary records, and creativity assessments—and compared data with students in traditional public schools, taking into account race, gender, and income.

“Low-income, non-low-income, black, white, male and female students in Montessori schools were all subgroups that showed significantly more progress than their non-Montessori peers,” according to the education site. “The researchers didn’t find significant differences for Hispanic or ‘other race’ students, but this could be because of the small sample size.”

The findings are a sign that the Montessori approach to educating the whole child, including social and emotional needs, both improves academics and fosters responsible, self-directed learners.

“Nationally, we’ve been fighting the achievement gap for years and have found few things that close that gap, so the fact that low-income Montessori kids fared better than their low-income peers . . . that says a lot,” said Ginny Riga, Montessori consultant for the South Carolina Department of Education.

“It’s hard to measure enjoyment of school and responsibility and independence, but anyone who has worked for any length of time in Montessori will tell you that’s what happens to the children.”

In The Content of Their Character, a summary of research into character formation in a wide variety of schools published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, sociologist David Sikkink notes in that “The Montessori model views ‘the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge’ and ‘values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.'”

“Montessori pedagogy places a strong emphasis on student participation and ownership of their education,” he explains.

The more personalized approach means students can choose their learning materials every day, from blocks to drawing or reading, with teachers working as guides, rather than leading the way with structured lessons, The74 reports.

While the South Carolina Montessori schools are mostly attracting attention for academic achievement, what is really noteworthy is the distinct focus on the whole person and commitment to nurturing responsible learners. It’s a very intentional ethos and culture that cultivates responsible children who demonstrate good behavior and meaningful learning.

The Montessori Academy offers a video that explains how Maria Montessori’s pioneering vision for early education came to life, and how it’s since impacted millions of students across the globe.

Austin, TX increases access to Garcia boys school

School choice debates are often framed around competition; public district schools vie against public charter schools and private schools to enroll students. However, in Austin things look a little different. The public district celebrates the variety of schooling options available to parents, including Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy.

Last week, the Austin Independent School District announced their plans to provide transportation for any student wishing to attend Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy. The announcement was made at a press conference, which the Austin American-Statesman covered.

The school is a all-boys campus serving grades six through eight. Artist Tyson, an 8th-grade student, was invited to speak at the press conference. He told the audience that Garcia’s single-sex composition was a major factor in its unique value.

“Something we get that you don’t obtain at other schools is brotherhood. The teachers here are phenomenal, but they are not our only educators. Our brothers teach us,” said Tyson. As a single-sex school, its culture and curriculum are tailored to its students. And, like other schools that families choose, it reaps the benefit of buy-in from that selection process.

The Austin district is eager to capitalize on this successful initiative. The school has room to grow in its enrollment, and officials are expecting that the decision regarding transportation will increase the number of students in attendance by at least 120. With enrollment currently at 400 students, this would represent growth of 30%.

Tyson is an example of a student whose family was so drawn to the mission of Garcia that they moved into the district just so he could attend. He summed up the trajectory that the school strives to move students through: “Boys yesterday. Men today. Leaders tomorrow.”

The school’s focus on developing students as young men, as well as scholars, clearly resonates. Sterlin McGruder, Garcia’s principal, said he regularly spoke with parents who wanted to enroll their children if not for the issue of transportation.

Now, thanks to the efforts of the Austin Independent Schools District, more students will benefit from the unique and holistic culture that exists at Garcia.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia conducted an extensive field research project in ten sectors of American secondary education. This field research included “pedagogical schools,” which Notre Dame sociologist David Sikkink, writing in The Content of Their Characterdescribes as “attempts to realize a full-orbed vision of education that [includes] a guiding mission or philosophy and fairly precise guidelines for school structure and teaching methods.”

Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy has just such a defining mission:

In an environment of brotherhood, the Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy develops scholars who are empathetic, service-oriented problem-solvers—lifelong learners who succeed in high school, college, career and life.

Tyson also noted that he is “surrounded by positive influences, particularly by men of color” and is taught to be a leader.

Education Week provides an interactive snapshot of the location of public single-gender schools for interested parents and educators. As it turns out, Gus Garcia operates in the state with the most single-gender schools.

EL charter school opening to serve at-risk students

This fall, a new school is opening in Elgin, IL, and it will seek to differentiate itself by implementing a model that incorporates social consciousness and character development. This model is known as Expeditionary Learning (EL), and it was what attracted the new principal, Lezlie Fuhr, to take the new role.

The Daily Herald reported on Fuhr’s hiring and background as part of their coverage surrounding Elgin Math and Science Academy’s opening. The school has been approved to serve 200 students in kindergarten to 3rd grade beginning in August of this year.

Fuhr is a longtime educator, 22 years, who has worked in both the classroom and in administration. She’ll be moving her family almost 4 hours to Elgin in a display of commitment to the school’s mission.

Fuhr was attracted to Elgin not only because of the opportunity to a grow a school from the ground up. She said she, “[R]ead the (EMSA) charter proposal and was so inspired by what they were trying to accomplish and wanted to be a part of that.”

She was particularly attracted to the EL model that sits at the core of the school’s plan. The model creates space in the school day to focus on topics like social consciousness and character development. In her eyes, “It really makes learning meaningful.”

Fuhr added that: “I really want math and science to come to life in this school. We want (students) to be those problem-solvers, critical thinkers.” EL is an attractive option for those seeking opportunities in which students can apply their academic learning to the service of others. Educators are getting on board, as are parents.

Eighty families have already registered for the school’s entrance lottery, which will be held in April. The goal is to have 300 families, representing 500 students, registered by that time. In the meantime, Fuhr will continue to build out her leadership team so that she’ll be poised at the doors of an innovative and culture-focused school in August.

Researchers, too, are drawn to schools like this one, because they can afford ” insights into the impact of school organizational culture on opportunities for moral and civic formation of youth.” These kinds of schools “offer an environment of strong aims and school community, countercultural norms and values, and rituals and practices that offer a unique context for moral and civic socialization of youth” writes Notre Dame sociologist David Sikkink in The Content of Their Character, an upcoming book from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

One of the defining marks of an EL school is service and compassion. Their motto, “We are crew, not passengers,” is embodied in “acts of consequential service to others.”

For the Elgin families applying for a spot at the Math and Science Academy, this unique culture of service and compassion will certainly be appealing.

Families may also be motivated by the academic results. Ida Jew Academies in San José, California—a public charter school that serves a similar demographic of students—saw dramatic improvements in reading proficiency among English Language Learners (+26%) and students eligible for free or reduced-price meals (+21%). In EL Schools, service to others catalyzes learning. Educators look for more information on EL Schools can find case studies and research on their website.

Alternative school meets the needs of students

Heidi Albin’s work at Complete High School Maize recently garnered a respected teaching award and $25,000 cash prize, recognition the science teacher credits in part to the Kansas alternative school’s unique approach to learning.

Albin recently received the coveted Milken Educator Award for 2017—dubbed the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher Magazine—for her efforts to connect with students who struggled in traditional high schools. She currently teaches biology, earth science, health, and agriculture, but incorporates other life skills and unique approaches to keep students engaged, according to Fort Hays State University, Albin’s alma mater.

FHSU reports:

In addition to the traditional curriculum, students are exposed to life skills through elective units such as survival skills, first aid and cooking. They get to experience chick hatching and husbandry. Albin wrote a grant for a community garden at her school and raised funds to acquire a therapy dog to help students cope with depression and anxiety.

“Whatever the students need to know is what we teach,” she said. “An alternative school is focused on meeting the needs of students in more direct ways than traditional schools. Our program is targeted to those issues.”

Maize’s approach is in line with a national movement toward an alternative “trauma-informed” approach to education that’s redesigning classrooms into less formal and more welcoming environments for students who have suffered trauma or struggle with other mental and emotional issues.

Alternative schools like Maize are considered pedagogical schools because they use a distinct theory and practice of learning and teaching.

David Sikkink, Notre Dame University sociologist and lead researcher of pedagogical schools for the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture’s School Cultures and Student Formation Project, which examined character formation in 10 sectors of American education observed, “moral and civic formation was communicated largely through commonplace practices and structures—a regime that was best understood as something that happens ‘on the ground,’ especially in relationships among students and between teachers and students.”

Albin didn’t take a traditional route to become a teacher, instead earning her bachelor’s degree in biology before taking advantage of FHSU’s Transition to Teaching program. The “T2T” program is designed to allow mid-career professionals to transition to teaching through an online program while they learn on the job.

“I was able to learn some more about science than I might not have had the opportunity to learn in the teacher education program,” she said. “The T2T program was perfect for what I wanted to do.”

Maize attracts outstanding teachers like Albin in part because of its ability to establish unique “commonplace practices and structures” that students need to succeed, and because of its support for educators who embrace the challenge.

For example, Albin worked with 1995 Milken Award winner Steve Woolf, now a superintendent, to incorporate a program he designed to engage students in the outdoors with adventures and experiences in leadership and service, FHSU reports.

The “WILD” program also promotes conservation, and Albin’s work to bring it to Maize played a role in her nomination for the Milken Award.

“His mission is to help young teachers doing great things,” Albin said of Woolf. “I want to pass that on. I work really hard, but I don’t want to keep that to myself. It’s more worthwhile if I can share it.”

Not every school can tailor its curriculum to students the way Maize does, yet every school serves children suffering from trauma and anxiety. The Education Law Center offers models, training tools, and additional resources for educators in its report, “Unlocking the Door to Learning: Trauma-Informed Classrooms and Transformational Schools.”

Focus on character in CA school drives results

Escondido, California’s Conway Elementary School struggled as one of the lowest-performing schools in its district for years, until a new approach to learning focused on character development helped to turn things around.

“We want students to be in charge of their own learning,” principal Cristina Meglich told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Over the last three years, Conway partnered with EL Education to revamp the way teachers educate students, through a $100,000-per-year district grant. The “expeditionary learning” approach sets aside 20 minutes at the beginning and ending of each day for students to hone in on their progress as part of a research-based program that pushes students to “master rigorous content, develop positive character, and produce high-quality work,” according to the EL Education website.

“Every Friday, the students reflect on their learning for the week, and give themselves a score,” Meglisch said.

Students also “set goals based on (state) standards,” she added. “They will identify their reading level, and what they need to work on next.”

The EL Education framework helped Conway meet its academic goals over the last two years, and 5th-graders “pretty much doubled their scores in math and language arts,” the principal said.

The Union-Tribune reports:

A big part of EL Education’s approach is character development. At Conway, that means emphasis on the school’s “EPIC” norms—Excellence, Perseverance, Integrity and Compassion.

“Suspensions went from 18 to four last year,” Meglisch said. “That character piece is essential to what they’re doing.”

Conway’s progress with the program so far also helped the school land a $5,000 grant this year from EL Education to help fund a 4th-grade project—“Protecting and Serving Our Local Watershed.”

The grant was awarded to only 18 schools nationwide as part of EL Education’s “Better World Project,” which will document the school project to serve as an example for other schools.

“My job is to help teachers do these things, and bring the community in,” EL Education’s Adam Krusi-Thom told The Union-Tribune. “That’s what the Better World Project gives to the community—the kids get a sense of something greater than themselves.”

Three 4th-grade teachers designed the project to allow student to explore the local watershed alongside experts at the Escondido Creek Conservancy. Teacher Bonnie Diamond said cement culverts have degraded the creek’s trout habitat, and students are investigating “the ramifications of humans . . . on the creek.”

The project also tasked students with rearing trout fingerlings from eggs, which they released into Miramar Lake as part of an “expedition” that involved lessons in reading, writing, science, and math, according to the news site.

“They created a field guide, they made informative trading cards,” 4th-grade teacher Lana Brady said. “There is more buy-in . . . It’s giving them real-world skills—talking to adults.”

That excitement has also infected parents, with 90% attending a recent event—far more engagement than in the past.

“Students are communicating the importance of them (parents) coming” to see what they’re doing in class, Meglich said.

While many low-performing schools turn to test preparation to improve academics, Conway’s EL approach relies on character formation to push students to take control of their own education and apply it in their own community.

Jeffrey Guhin, a scholar with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, recently conducted research in urban public schools around the United States for the Institute’s School Cultures and Student Formation project and observed a striking pattern.

“Self-actualization was by far the most important moral idea in any of the schools, on both an aggregate and individual level,” Guhin wrote. “It represented what schools were supposed to do according to administrators and to district, state, and federal programs. It was what the teachers and principals wanted for the students, and what the students themselves wanted.”

The EL approach to character formation moves the focus from self-actualization to deep learning by helping students to “master rigorous content, develop positive character, and produce high-quality work.”

At Conway, students studied their own local watershed, and then they “wrote letters and presented their findings to city officials.” Academics are improving because “the students are excited about something and actually feel like they have a voice,” Brady said.

Guhin’s research into character and citizenship formation in U.S. high schools will appear in the new book The Content of Their Character, to be published in February. Preorders are now available at a discount from CultureFeed.

Students helped design new $43M school in partnership with Oracle

Students at Design Tech High School moved into a brand-new, high-tech, 64,000-square-foot building on the campus of software giant Oracle this month—a school they helped design over the last three years.

When today’s seniors entered the public charter school, commonly referred to as d.tech, in 2014, the first class of 139 9th-graders plopped down in unused classrooms inside a traditional high school, according to The74Million.

In January, they walked into a state-of-the-art $43 million facility they helped bring to life.

“Even though they were just ninth-graders, they really participated confidently in design sessions, identifying needs, considering restraints,” d.tech Director of Learning Nicole Cerra told the education news site. “Their voices were big from the beginning, even if they didn’t get the zip line they wanted.”

The project stems from a public-private partnership between d.tech and Oracle, a multinational computer technology company in Redwood Shores, California. Oracle paid for the construction of the building, situated on 2.5 acres of unused land on its campus, that’s designed to inspire students to create and innovate, and to apply what they learn to their community.

Oracle also provides the school’s 550 students and 40 staff with unlimited access to the company’s expertise, The74Million reports.

In exchange, the software company helped to influence the curriculum at d.tech to create a culture of innovation.

“We are looking forward to our students having an easier and ongoing relationship with folks at Oracle to get that mentorship and guidance,” Cerra said. “There are a lot of great things about the location itself. The biggest advantage is getting to connect with [Oracle] volunteers.”

The arrangement works well because d.tech and Oracle share a vision of education that’s specifically centered on a drive to create. Students working with Oracle volunteers have already created real solutions, earned patents, and created products.

The74Million reports:

The heart of the new building—in an almost literal sense—is its two-story Design Realization Garage, a giant maker space. From a woodshop on the bottom floor to a digital lab on the top, Cerra says, the space was intentionally placed in the center of school to send a message that Design Tech centers on creation—fitting for a school that focuses on extreme personalization in learning and the use of design to solve problems.

“Learning is not just about receiving information or regurgitating information,” Cerra says. “It is really about creation. When kids practice with active creation, it encourages them to be problem solvers in the future. That real-world experience empowers them to start making that difference we want them to make already when they are in high school.”

Students focus on finding solutions during eight weeks of “intersessions” each school year. The sessions are led by leaders in the community—from small business and large companies, or nonprofits—that help push students to explore issues outside of the school.

“In every instance, the students are learning from real practitioners,” Oracle Education Foundation Executive Director Colleen Cassity told The74Million. “It is extraordinary the school is inviting the community into the education experience.”

The d.tech school is the latest in cutting-edge pedagogical schools centered on a clear and particular vision of learning that’s reflected in everything from the curriculum to the design of the school to the discipline to meet learning goals.

The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture studied how pedagogical schools’ unique ethos bolsters character and citizenship formation.

David Sikkink, the Institute’s lead researcher of pedagogical schools, writes: “. . . these alternative schools often are attempts to realize a full-orbed vision of education that included a guiding mission or philosophy and fairly precise guidelines for school structure and teaching methods.”

That “full-orbed vision of education” at d.tech—centered on creation—is an inspiring thing.

“It is infectious for all of us,” Cassity said.

Pedagogical schools like d.tech provide fascinating case studies for how schools that have a “full-orbed vision of education” contribute to character formation—particularly as they involve students in responsible decision making. And d.tech is leading the way by involving students in every stage of school design and construction.

Sikkink contributed his research on the influence of pedagogical public and private schools—including Montessori, Waldorf, International Baccalaureate, Democratic, and New Tech schools—for a chapter in the new book The Content of Their Character, available for pre-order at a discount.