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A Wonderful Case Study - High School As It Ought To Be

Here's a great example of passion and projects overcoming inertia...

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How much more focused and engaged would high school students be if they were given an opportunity to pursue their passions – topics that truly sparked their interest and excitement?  

A year ago, we helped launch an experiment with 9th graders at the Riverdale Country School, a small independent school in the Bronx.  A year earlier, a new head of school had been hired and he brought to his role a series of ideas about education that ought to be commonplace but are all too rare. Among them: 

--Learning should be challenging, but also fun and engaging.
--Igniting interest and engagement in students is part of any school’s brief.
--The best learning atmosphere is high challenge and low stress. It’s important for kids to be happy and satisfied.
--Well-being – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual -- is a critical element of a child’s capacity to learn and of a life well led.
--Kids need to be supported in their passions even if they’re sometimes bizarre or impulsive.

Eclectic in his own interests, Randolph read an article I wrote with my colleague Catherine McCarthy in the Harvard Business Review about our work. He  wrote me asking if we might consider adapting it for high school students – unaware at the time that I’d attended Riverdale myself 40 years earlier, and that I now lived four blocks from the school.

We decided to start with a small pilot project – approximately 15 kids and four faculty members, each focused on something we named “The One Big Thing.”  The idea was to give each participant an opportunity to spend six months identifying and pursuing a passion and developing a project around it."