Monday, July 26, 2010

Walking the Highline

“Walking the High Line”

Next year shapes up to be an exciting session at MHS. Access to the MHS wifi will continue and with expanded broadband capabilities problems that have plagued the building will become a distant memory. Students will be able to use hand held devices in classrooms and the school will be linked through common usage of morristownhighschool.org accounts. Class Moodle pages will be further developed and all freshman will start experimenting with the Social Bookmarking service Diigo.

Additionally, we have move beyond the growing pains of working in a new schedule. Hopefully, teachers will feel more comfortable having had the chance to spend a summer reflecting on 09-10 school year. We will also have two classes, the 9th and 10th graders that only know the current schedule.

The Strategic Plan will influence decisions made at the high school and provide a common vision for all MHS stakeholders. As the strategic plan takes hold, more of us at the high school can have an active role in shaping a model school for 21st Century learning.

While all of these developments are exciting, personally, I am anxiously awaiting the start of next school year to sit in a string of classes being introduced for the first time at the high school. American Studies I and II and African American Studies are interdisciplinary Humanities courses that will be taught by several English and Social Studies teachers. Another Academy will be launched at MHS. The Classics Academy will involve teachers from 5 different departments, support co-teaching models and provide students with the space to study independently. Just based upon the thought, commitment and effort put forth by educators involved in each program there is no way these course will not be successful. The fact that these course will run next year has inspired other educators to conceive of cross-disciplinary opportunities.

The evidence is compelling when supporting interdisciplinary/co-teaching models. Research also suggests that schools should be broken down into smaller academies or houses. I suggest reading Linda Darling Hammond’s The Flat World and Education: How America's Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future. Programs such as the Science or Classics Academy could be the future of how MHS is structured.

The thought of academies and what can be accomplished at MHS came across my mind this weekend. I finally had the chance to walk the High Line in NYC. I have been waiting to walk the High Line since it was refurbished and opened last June. Within a year, the High Line has become one of the most trafficked attractions in NYC. It is hard to think that the decrepit weed infested rail line that ran through the meat packing district could be transformed into an urban botanical thoroughfare. I was able to walk the High Line at sundown and return after dinner (Dos Caminos great Mexican) to stroll some more. The transformation is impressive. A new lens has been created to view the city and for the city that never sleeps, the High Line had this vibrancy that’s hard to explain.

Besides the beauty of the walk, the High Line also represents human ingenuity. Thinking about the High Line’s transformation stimulated reflections about MHS.

Any small learning community that is created needs to be relevant in that students are being challenged with authentic scenarios and can apply skills and knowledge to current dilemmas. Let’s say we wanted to construct a pathway through the high school that connected to sustainability/environmental consciousness.

We could ask students to consider the use of space within existing communities. Morristown could be a think tank for our students as they investigate was to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly community. Is there a parallel between community gardens projects or converting vacant lots into functional space and the transformation of the High Line into a pedestrian thoroughfare? If students were presented with a problem to transform an abandoned rail spur, consider the different disciplines and skills involved in crafting and presenting a possible solution.

I urge those who have not to put aside some time for a leisurely stroll on the High Line. While walking and taking in the surroundings, consider what went into the current and future planned development and the impact it has had. Also, consider how the highline could be a model of engagements we would privilege for students.

Thanks for listening and again, find some time to take stroll with friends and family.