St. Louis high schools are taking innovative approaches to help students prepare for the future

High schoolers are just a few years from adulthood, which means new freedoms and new responsibilities. Some will set off for college. Others will dive into their first full-time jobs. All of them will face challenges, and high schools are charged with preparing young people for that reality. Many area high schools are responding with innovative programs that help students meet the world, learn responsibility, and give back to the community.

Crossroads College Preparatory School’s 5th Day program, for instance, devotes three hours each Wednesday to allow students to take a deep dive into a particular skill: ceramics, drones and robotics, food science… Students can also learn about civil rights, St. Louis history, or the great outdoors.

“We talked about, ‘What if the schedule didn’t dictate everything?’” says Mark Norwood, co-head of school. “‘What if you had the time to really dive into something you love, and we had the schedule be subservient to that?’ So we started with the learning experience and worked the schedule from there.”

The school launched this new approach last year, after initial planning in fall 2022. Although educators provided the ideas for this year’s seminars, the plan is to ask students to propose topics in the future.

With each 5th Day seminar open to any grade level, students are also provided with leadership opportunities. “Middle schoolers act more maturely [around the high school kids], and juniors and seniors are getting more roles as mentors,” Norwood says.

At Hancock High School in Lemay, educators are taking a new approach to grading through evidence-based instruction and assessment, in which students receive two scores: for academics and behavior. “Our grades are far more accurate now,” David Williams, principal of Hancock High School, told KMOX last fall.

“Generally, in Public High School USA, there are a large number of students who are getting As and Bs in courses, and [they] have not met that course content… But [there is] also a large cohort of students who have traditionally received Ds and Fs that have actually met the grade-level standards.”

While the school uses this new system to evaluate students academically, teachers also hand out a “habits of work and learning score,” which evaluates the student’s work ethic and responsibility. The goal is to promote student agency and a growth mindset. “The idea is, ‘When I do an assignment, instead of getting a grade on it and moving on, no, I’ve got to make it better,’” Williams told KMOX. “The expectation is, ‘I’m going to keep revising this until I get it right.’”

Although these two schools are taking radically different approaches, both are encouraging students to focus on skills they’ll need in the future. “Talking to a handful of our alumni, they said 5th Day sounds like college,” says Sarah Pierson Wolff, co-head of Crossroads College Preparatory School. “There, you’re going to have to figure out something you care about and research it deeply. This is good preparation for the independence and personal engagement with learning that the future requires.”

April 23, 2024

1:37 PM

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