Students enter project to create new school worth $10M

Published 9:20 am Wednesday, April 27, 2016

No text books, no tests, no grades, no homework — sounds like a dream for many high school students today. For students in Elizabethton, that dream could become a reality.

A project by students at Elizabethton High School (EHS) has the potential to bring $10 million into the Elizabethton City School System (ECS), along with the creation of a high school unlike any other. Currently, the plan submitted by Mr. Alex Campbell’s students ranks in the top 350 applicant teams of about 8,000 applicants from 45 states. The teams have submitted plans for new or redesigned high schools that rethink education.

After weeks of researching education models around the world, students in Campbell’s sociology class designed a “super school” that they believe would yield adaptive critical thinkers prepared to enter the ever-evolving workforce. The plan is part of the XQ Super School Project which encourages students to design a school that they would want to attend, which would produce more well-rounded, creative and intelligent students.

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Five projects will be awarded $10 million each to create new schools.

One quarter of the project is funded by the XQ Institute, with the other $40 million from Steve Jobs’ widow. Campbell said the goal is to encourage students not only to learn about learning, but to build a school in which education is a success.

The name XQ is derived from a combination of IQ and EQ. The Project describes IQ as “how we think …a measure of cognitive capability,” and EQ as “how we learn in the world …a measure of the ability to connect, collaborate and learn from others.”

“XQ is the agile and flexible intelligence that prepares students for a more connected world, a rapidly changing future, and a lifetime of learning,” the XQ website states.

With that in mind, students spent one month studying education, brain development, and employment and submitted their proposal in December. Campbell said they considered hours spent at school, effectiveness of take-home work, usefulness of textbooks, importance of project-based application, days spent at school, nutrition, workforce readiness and a variety of other factors.

Their research of education around the world yielded a plan for the Bartleby Super School, which is truly unique in its diversity and application of the concepts taught in high school.

“Students had to have proof that what they were saying would work, so they had to find schools in America or around the world that were using these models, and they had to back it up with documented proof that what they did would work,” Campbell said.

The classes would not be based around a curriculum, Campbell said, but rather would focus on project-based learning.

“In the real world, you don’t really learn about one thing at a time, you learn about several things together,” Campbell said.

Instead of classes like Algebra I, II and III, he said there would be a class like Foundations of America, which would cover history, geography, politics and literature.

Classes would be focused on projects, entrepreneurial activities for individuals and groups and community involvement, Campbell said.

“So if you’re in that class and you want to raise and sell free range chicken eggs, that could be your project with two or three people,” he said. “That would combine economics, finance, woodworking and biology.”

The project would come first, Campbell said, and then by asking questions, students would find ways to successfully accomplish tasks and to learn.

“You learn what you need to know and then put it to practice, that’s how we go through life and how we want our students to learn,” Campbell said.

The results of these projects would be documented by teachers and would go into the students’ graduate portfolios, which would later go before a diploma board.

“They can graduate anytime they want,” Campbell explained. “The students said graduating high school should be like running for president. So if the board agrees, students prove why they should graduate, and if they can justify they’ve learned everything they what them to learn and want them to do, then they can get their diploma.”

Students would attend school for 200 days out of the year with a long winter break and shorter breaks during spring and fall, he said. They would only attend school three days a week, and on the other two, they would either be completing an internship, job shadowing or volunteering at a non-profit organization.

He said that because brain research suggests students do not begin learning before 9 a.m., classes would take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to a summary of the 70-page Bartleby plan, the school would have 150 students in its first year with 10 educators. Classes would be blocked into 2 hour segments with 20-minute breaks in each.

Classes would not be structured as classes today are, with note copying, worksheets or textbooks. Students would be actively engaged in project planning, the summary said — whether it be helping with local Veterans’ Day programs, helping to improve garden space for a local non-profit or working on their entrepreneurial activities. Classes would also be comprised of a mixture of ages of students, rather than separating students by age.

The money otherwise invested in textbooks would be used to help start students’ entrepreneurial activities. He said they would use online PDF books, which he said a nearby county has already begun doing.

Lunch would last one hour, and Campbell said he hopes students doing agricultural entrepreneurial projects would be able to supply some ingredients there.

The summary states students would not be assigned homework, with an exception for large projects, as it is shown to reduce family time and sleep while increasing stress.

Enrollment would be open to all students, and Campbell said it could potentially grow to accommodate more students.

“Students would have to go before an entry board of teachers, students, parents and school board and community members,” Campbell said. “We’re not after the smart kids. We’re after kids that want something different. A lot of kids are bored with regular schools and would excel doing something different.”

If ECS is one of the five winners, the new school would be established as a public school, potentially as a magnet school, he said.

According to an XQ press release, submissions across the board share common goals like setting the high school as the center of the community, with rigorous interconnectivity with the community for shared skill building. They want thorough and engaged learning styles that focus on mastery and blended subject matter.

“XQ applicants everywhere want high school to prepare graduates with a deeper world readiness and the skills of knowing how to think in all sorts of dynamic ways,” the release said.

On Monday, April 18, students presented the project to the Elizabethton Board of Education, which was well-received.

“This is something that high school students have dreamt of,” student Cody Dugger told board members. “There are plenty of things we dread in school like standardized testing or not being able to learn things the way that’s best for us or the way that we want to because we’re limited by state standards.”

Board Chair Rita Booher, along with other board members, commended them, saying educators in Nashville should be asking them what they want out of education, as it has changed and continues to change.

Director of Schools Dr. Corey Gardenhour said, “We’re excited that our children are stepping out and thinking outside the box. They have an entrepreneurial spirit about them and have chosen to enter a project that would help our entire school system and region. We’re proud they value education enough to go after improvements in education.”

Winners will be announced in early August, and if selected, Campbell said they will work with Elizabethton Central Office and others to move forward.