One thing that struck me during my visit to Philadelphia’s School of the Future last week was an awareness among many students that the unique school provides them opportunities they likely would not have at their neighborhood schools. With its new, airy building, high-tech features, online curriculum, and small student population, the School of the Future is a visual standout with big ideas about changing the way urban high schools operate.
The school has struggled to meet its mission, due to a range of organizational, technological, and demographic challenges, as I outline here in this EdWeek article. (Several readers have already written some very interesting comments at the bottom of the story.)
Now in its fourth school year, it is too early to tell what kind of impact the school can have on student achievement. And with its first class of seniors this school year, educators here can’t yet answer the question of whether the school will help send more students to college, or whether they’ll be prepared to do college-level work.
Teachers and school counselors, however, are working hard to put the school’s 750 students in the right mindset by setting expectations that all of them will at least think seriously about and apply to college. Counselor Kate Hayes, for example, told me about several efforts she and her colleagues have made to get the school’s first graduating class on the college track.
As a first step, freshmen who helped open the school in Sept. 2006 were issued T-shirts with college logos that served as part of their uniform, and they were given a pep talk about that first day of high school being the start of their march toward college. Hayes then helped the students last year, when they were juniors, craft and hone personal statements that they can use on their college applications.
The school is going all out this year with those students, who are now seniors. Hayes has invited several college admissions counselors to talk with students about the process of applying for higher education. She’s also been building a partnership with the Community College of Philadelphia, which offers a range of affordable programs for students for whom a four-year university is out of reach.
But Hayes and her colleagues aren’t willing to just lead students to resources and potential options. Later this fall, she is planning a field trip to the community college, where each senior will be given the same assignment: to fill out an application and take the needed placement tests.
“If nothing else,” Hayes said, “every kid in the [inaugural graduating class] of this school will have an acceptance letter from the Community College of Philadelphia before they graduate.”
Photo by Jason Rearick for Education Week
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.