Film Presents New Possibilities for Schools

By on December 17, 2015

NOWWWWWWWWWW School BoardImagine if schools had glass walls and informal educational structures. What if standardized tests and strict class schedules were a thing of the past?

Consider what might happen if students were taught what they needed as they needed it. If they were taught in an applied fashion in a manner as customized and individualized as possible to maximize the student’s unique learning style?

The Ephrata Area School District, along with help from the Ephrata Main Theater, sponsored the showing of the independent documentary film, Most Likely to Succeed, Dec. 10.

The film examines how for most of the past century, entry level jobs were plentiful, and college was an affordable path to a fulfilling career. According to the film’s producer, “that world no longer exists.”

Most Likely to Succeed examines the history of education, revealing the growing shortcomings of our school model in today’s innovative world. The documentary points to the critical issues affecting education today and conveys the urgency for moving our schools in the 21st century, but in an inspiring way. The film poses questions rather than attempt to prove a point of view.

The packed house at the Ephrata Main Theater came away engaged and inspired by a possible future.

The film was a powerful indictment of the nation’s public school system which was designed in 1863. Despite huge changes, the basic curriculum and manner in which students are taught has remained unchanged ever since. The film presents some eye opening statistics:

  • Fifty-three percent of recent college graduates are under-employed or unemployed.
  • Student engagement in school plummets as they get to higher grades, from 80 percent in elementary school to just 40 percent by the beginning of high school.
  • Just 11 percent of employers, yet 96 percent of academic provosts, believe colleges are effective in preparing graduates for the workplace.
  • A LEGO Foundation study reports that students lose more than 90 percent of their creative capacity during their school years.
  • Gallop found that college grads who had opportunities to apply classroom learning to internships, jobs or ambitious projects are twice as likely to be in engaged in work later in life.
  • 65 percent of today’s grade-school children will end up in jobs that haven’t been invented yet.
  • The current length of a job for the millennial is an average of 2.6 years, and millenials will have 15-20 • By 2020, 40 to 50 percent of all income-producing work will be short-term contracts, freelance work and so-called SuperTemps.
  • 45 percent of recent college graduates return home to live with their parents.

In making the documentary, the producers visited countless schools following numerous different educational platforms across the nation. However, they spent an entire year following an entirely new concept in education, called High Tech High, which was built completely from ground up as a whole new direction in education. There are no school bells, no set classroom schedules or even rigid divisions between course disciplines. The learning is hands on and through applied projects. Students learn by doing, not as much through typical classroom lectures. There are no standardized tests and much of the school is made of glass so that it does not even have the look and feel of a typical high school setting.

High Tech High is still way too new for any long term results to be clear. The film, even those involved with High Tech High, make that clear as well as the fact that High Tech High represents nothing short of a calculated risk but a necessary one at that.

The teachers trade tenure for the freedom to control what and how they teach in the classroom. There is also the tradeoff of being able to spend more time getting to know the students and teaching so that students are achieving actual learning.

Initial results were impressive with high graduation rates and 96 percent of High Tech High graduates going on to college. The bigger questions, however, will be how these graduates will fair longer term against those of traditional schools. That data will not be available for ten to 15 years.

Following the showing of the film, a panel discussion was held on the information covered by the film. Participating in the panel discussion included School Board President Tim Stayer, Dr. Brian Barnhard, executive director, Lancaster-Lebanon IU13; Scott Galen, principal at Ephrata High School; as well as two EHS seniors, Jasmeen Kaur and Brittany Johnson.

Sen. Ryan Aument had been accepted an invitation to be a part of the panel but at the last minute had to cancel.

Ephrata School District Superintendent Dr. Brian Troop acted as facilitator for the discussion and made it clear that while the district had no plans to make a radical shift from the current platform to that portrayed in the film, the district did recognize the need to continuously consider better methods of improving quality outcomes.

“Our district-wide theme this year, ‘What are you BECOMING,’ is intended to challenge all district students and staff to focus on continuous improvement and encouragement of a growth mindset. My hope is that the message of this film will empower educational leaders in our area and the legislators who represent us to think differently about the structure of our current system,” said Troop.

Galen, himself a biology teacher for a number of years before becoming a principal, said he had focused on teaching a number of those skills in his classroom.

“No matter what your path of life, those interpersonal skills, that stick-to-itiveness, yes, those discreet skills still challenge our paradigms of us raised in the system,” said Galen.

Stayer seemed to agree.

He indicated that while tax payers may not quite appreciate the board approving construction of an all new multi-million dollar state-of-the-art high school like High Tech High, the film did drive home some very strong points which could be applied throughout the local system. In fact, he said, many already are, pointing to the monthly student presentations made at regular school board meetings which showcase such creative innovations being utilized across the district.

“It always amazes me what our teachers can do and how eager those students are to share with strangers in suits what they are learning. Those teachers are doing amazing things in square rooms, so it is not so such the classroom but what the teachers are able to do even within the limitation of regulatory and financial parameters,” said Stayer.

Those parents present for the film that spoke during the discussion seemed intrigued by what they saw.

One questioned the illusion of control and the concept of letting go of that control as it would impact education. The film pointed out that at High Tech High, as teachers and students were no longer under the control of standardized tests, rigorous schedules and tight curriculums greater learning and creativity took place.

One parent agreed, commenting that the district should at least “dabble” in some of the concepts presented in the film.

Troop conceded that in today’s education one size does not fit all.

“EHS won’t become High Tech High in terms of the look etc., but in terms of pockets of the ideas and concept we are taking steps,” added Galen. “Just in the past year and a half, we have made great strides. We have digitized a lot of content on Schoology, which is a great vehicle and made a lot of other changes in the way we are instructing things. We don’t want to short change those and we still have a long way to go in finding a mix of those strategies, which are the right tools for the right time.”

Troop added that, while the district cannot do everything he believes, the district cannot afford to do stand by and to nothing either.

“We have to do something,” added Troop. “And transition bears some risk but my hope is that maybe through collaboration we can create a safety net to continue taking those risks. The future is coming. We may be off by five years but it is coming.”

“I would love to go to High Tech High,” said Johnson. “I’m not sure I would be comfortable there coming from the traditional setting but I do learn more through application.”

Kaur agreed.

“I’d love to redo high school and go there,” she said. “I’ve gone through all of the standardized testing thinking, ‘What’s next?’. I’m beginning to question, ‘Did I learn anything?’ I’d like to explore more on weaknesses and strengths.”

“While this movie does offer some criticism of our current education system, it also proposes much potential for the future. I believe we should be willing to be nudged out of our comfort zone by the thoughts and ideas expressed in the film and anxious to implement new insights as we find innovative ways to help students reach their potential,” Troop added.

Additional information on the film, Most Likely to Succeed can be found at mltsfilm.org. Also visit the Ephrata School District website at easdpa.org. Gary P. Klinger welcomes your feedback via email at klingerglobal@gmail.com.

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