Monday, January 9, 2012

Big Picture Middle School a Big Hit

Shortly before break I stopped by Highline Big Picture, which is located at our Manhattan site. From 2005 to the present, Big Picture has been a high school in our district. This fall, we added two classes of seventh graders for a Big Picture middle school program. Big Picture has been recognized by OSPI as an innovative school model and it's one of the things I'm proud of about our district.

Big Picture High School

The Big Picture high school program is built on relationships, competencies, student interest, and internships. Much like an elementary school, students have a single primary teacher, called an "advisor". Rather than an emphasis on content, the advisor model allows the relationship between teacher and student to personalize the learning experience for each child. There are no courses or grades, but students must be able to demonstrate their mastery of competencies through exhibitions. And students attend internships two days per week, promoting personal growth in the real world and allowing students to learn many of their academic lessons in the context of their application to work.

I am thankful for the Big Picture high school program. It allows us to connect with students who crave a more self-directed, applied learning experience. And I don't think any school I've worked with has more passionate and consistent support from parents.

Big Picture Middle School

Parent Teresa Eberhardt and Big Picture's Loren Demoroutis
The focus of my visit was the new Big Picture middle school program. Principal Jeff Petty greeted me and then handed me off to Loren Demoroutis, who is the lead administrator for the middle school program. This year, the school has added two classes of seventh graders, with plans to add to eighth grade next year.

Big Picture's middle school program doesn't include internships, but it bears many of the same elements. The two middle school advisors work closely with their class of 20 students and partner to help cover all subjects and expertise. Their ability to collaborate is enhanced by an elective period where students choose a topic of interest with somebody other than their teacher. While I was visiting, I saw principal Jeff Petty's elective on birds and parent Teresa Eberhardt who worked with students on art projects in Mr. Demoroutis' room.

A student essay on Google Docs
In addition to liking that Big Picture connects with students and parents in ways traditional schools often do not, what I like about Big Picture is that it is resourceful and unafraid to use innovative approaches. While visiting Avi Barnes' seventh grade class, I noticed a student working in Google Docs, a platform to share work on-line used by many major businesses throughout the United States and the world. He was writing an essay on the history of computers and the arrangement allowed him to share his drafts with his teacher for instant feedback.

I hada great time at Big Picture, as I do every time, and I look forward to returning again soon!

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