Photo by Emily Poole Government teacher Scott Yant instructs senior Mazlow Petosa, junior Sarah Payne, junior Jessica Harris and senior McKenzie Masters at the community school. Each student in the community school is lent a laptop for the school year.
Offering different approach to education and discipline, community school enrollment keeps growing
By Noah Grumman
Most high school upperclassmen spend their senior year working on their capstone or senior thesis project.
But for students at the UAHS Community School, the fourth quarter of senior year is full of possibilities. Students are released to travel abroad, get an internship, or even pursue an interest like learning how to blow glass or box.
Called the Odyssey project, the time allows community school students to focus on real-world experiences and opportunities after high school. The project is just one of the many ways that the community school continues to rethink the traditional high school education and discipline system.
According to Lynn Reese, a science teacher for the community school, enrollment in the school continues to increase. Now in its fifth year, the program has grown from 25 students in its first year to the current enrollment of 80 students.
Reese said the idea for community school was conceived when a group of teachers got together and envisioned an alternative type of schooling.
“Over the course of a year and a half of conversations, and finding money to buy computers, [community school] finally evolved,” Reese said.
One of the unique policies of the community school is the laptops that every student borrows for the school year. Reese said he believes the laptops are beneficial both in the classroom and at home.
“It allows us to do different kinds of lessons that I can’t do in classes that don’t have computers,” Reese said. “My Environmental Science class is completely paperless—all of [its] documents are on Moodle.”
According to community school senior Jonathon Carter, being able to use various programs for graphing and statistics allows him to take a more visual approach to learning.
“I feel like it’s very beneficial [to have the laptops] with modern times, how everything is becoming more and more based around technology,” Carter said.
Reese noted the laptops have their down sides.
“[Laptops are] a great tool for distraction” Reese said. “If [students] are not good at policing themselves, then they have access to iChat and games.”
One of the core ideas of the community school’s philosophy of education is the democratic rule in the classroom.
One example of this is the discipline system, which is much different from the traditional high school system. When a dispute arises, teachers and students can take other teachers and students to a “Fairness Committee,” where a jury of four students and one teacher make democratic decisions on disciplinary issues.
“Instead of just getting a lunch detention for a tardy, your teacher takes you to fairness and it might have any number of different outcomes,” Reese said.
Not only does a “Fairness Committee” settle disputes, students have a say in the rules of the school and the topics of study. The school even holds regular forums and town meetings where students are given a chance to voice their opinions and vote about the rules and curriculum.
According to Carter, the structure of town meetings is similar to that of the U.S. Congress.
“If we have a problem with how things are run, we’ll bring it up for the whole community to discuss, get feedback, and essentially form a bill,” Carter said. “[Then] the community [decides to have a] town meeting, where you can vote it into actual law.”
The democratic principles are exactly why the community school is appealing to some students, including Carter, who is in his second year at community school.
“The biggest thing that drew me to community school was the idea of the democratic process combined into your school,” Carter said. “[I liked] that you had the power to take more of an active role within your curriculum.”
The democratic rule was also a draw for junior Chris Kabealo, who is in his first year with community school.
“I love being on equal levels with teachers,” Kabealo said. “No one looks down on anyone here.”
In the future, Reese said that they would like to have the community school housed in a separate building, as well as continue to grow.