“We don’t do that here,” an older student told another who was engaging in bullying. Both students were members of the same “family” at Quest Early College High School in Humble Texas, the 2011 winner of ASCD’s Whole Child Award. At the ASCD Annual Conference, I got a chance to speak to three generations of women from the school, Principal Kim Kelpcyk, teacher Denise McLean, and Janet, a current senior.
Many school around the country are experimenting with Advisory programs – where groups of students meet regularly with an adult at the school. My own school in Oakland CA has Advisory for our freshmen, where 25-30 students meet daily with their Advisor. The advisor is the primary contact between the child’s family and the school. The Advisor is the adult who is taking a sustained interest in making sure that this child is having a successful first year of high school.
At Quest, they’ve taken the Advisory concept to the next level. Their “families” are multi-grade, where a student stays with their same Advisory for all four years of high school. Old family members mentor and look out for their younger “brothers” and “sisters.” It’s been a real culture changer in the words of Ms. McLean. She sees the families as an opportunity to engage with her students on a more human level, without the traditional power dynamic of teacher-student. Ms. Kelpcyk was Denise’s own family-mentor when she was a student at the school nearly ten years ago.
Janet was always the “quiet kid” and did not see herself become very involved with her high school four years ago. “But being in a family, being with older kids helpe get me out of my shell.”
I asked if the family structure helped reduce the amount of bullying at the school. In my mind’s eye, I could see one freshmen bullying another, then their older “siblings” becoming involved to mediate. Reality is even better than my imagination, as Janet described the instant intervention described at the beginning of this piece.
Quest students are not at school on Fridays. They are in the community doing service learning and internships. Janet, who is thinking about becoming a teacher herself, is working at a local middle school this year. Not just tutoring, she is actually designing and leading lessons with her cooperating teacher. The experiences she’s getting are influencing her senior project. Her team’s topic is human rights and Janet’s piece is specifically rights for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered people, but the planning for her presentation/senior expo is being influenced by the lesson planning she is learning as a part of her internship.
While the students are in the community, Quest staff engages in weekly professional development, and collaboration. The staff can meet to discuss their kids, the one’s they share, talking about their progress, struggles and needs. Additionally, they can share lessons with one another, look at student work, and help one another grow as professionals.
The Long View
Having three “generations” of academics around the table allowed us to discuss the changes Quest has undergone over the years. When Principal Kelpcyk was a student, schools didn’t have “families” or advisory programs. When Ms. McLean was “Denise” and in Ms. Kelpcy’s family at Quest, when Kelpcyk was a teacher and Denise the student, internships and the ability to earn college credit were still only concepts for the future. “In fact, “recalls Kelpcyk, “it was another student’s senior expo the year Denise was a senior, that got the school thinking about internships.” When asked what the school might look like in ten years, When Janet might be a teacher there, or in twenty years, when Janet is the principal, she is hard pressed to imagine the changes that Quest might undergo. “I can’t think of a way the school could be better.”
At least for the near future, I may have to agree.