If you want to know how to develop a Performance Management Framework Tier 1 school, follow me to the 2012 Winter Expeditions of Two Rivers Public Charter School. Last Thursday evening I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours observing student presentations regarding research projects students and faculty worked on for the past several months. I was absolutely amazed.
I started with an eighth grade class that had studied the use of public spaces going back to the time of ancient Athens, who then applied what they had learned to vacant land in the NoMA section of Washington, D.C. When I entered the room students were reading stories from notebooks they had written based upon reading The Odyssey. The kids were positioned at various stations throughout the room. But these were not one or two page works. These young people had created tales that filled the amount of space you would typically find in a chapter of a serious adult book of fiction. They were uniformly poised, confident, articulate, and proud of what they were sharing with the tightly packed crowd of people. One pupil even read the story of another classmate.
Once this portion of the presentation was completed the visitors to the school came together to learn of a student-led proposal for turning a parcel of land into a public park. The team of pupils had carefully considered various uses for the property from adding basketball courts to playground equipment. During the question and answer period one of the participants explained extemporaneously the valuable role parks play in society. Now it was the audience’s chance to return to the stations to see how other teams had tackled the same assignment.
Then it was off to a sixth grade class that had looked at the food we eat and the way that it was farmed 300 years ago compared to today. It was here that I realized that these expedition presentations share a pattern. The visitors alternate in cycles between learning from groups of students to uniting to hear from the class as a whole. The use of panels of pupils situated at desks reminded me of the sophistication of the elegant dinner my wife and I attended last year celebrating 40 years of service by Carlos Rosario’s Sonia Gutierrez, in which dignitaries spoke at one main stage as well as other sub-stages positioned around the ballroom.
The issue upon which this expedition was focused was the notion that when individuals make food choices they are often unaware of the possible impact of their decisions on themselves or their community. The accompanying 12-page brochure explained the four different food chains: industrial, industrial organic, local sustainable, and hunter-gatherer. The booklet also suggested questions that participants could ask the students, and included inquiries about the audience’s selection of food based upon what was learned today.
It was at this point in the night that I became overwhelmed with emotion. During one period where we were all brought together the discussion was led by a young man and woman. These 11 or 12 years olds sat in front of the class with notes stacked neatly on their laps. They addressed the crowd, not by referring back to the typed pages, but by looking straight ahead at the participants as if to say “I have mastered the material I have studied and I know exactly what I am doing.” To me, it was as if this message referred simultaneously to their school work and their lives.