New Spaces and Community Impact

The opening of school this year introduced an exciting new space to the UPrep community: our transformed Commons. Construction that started last May reached its end just before Labor Day, thanks to the effort and organization of our staff, architect, and construction teams.

Four years ago, the school comprehensively reviewed the campus, created a list of remodel and new construction projects that would improve the student experience, and then rank ordered them. Transforming the Commons rose to the top of the list, because it met several goals.

  • Improve the character of the Commons
  • Use space more flexibly
  • Provide more space for a growing student body
  • Upgrade and grow the kitchen

We improved the character of the space in several ways. When you walk in, you immediately notice a full wall of windows looking onto the Picardo Patch, the original and largest community garden in Seattle. This view was previously restricted to offices located along this wall. The second big change is the lighting: brighter and whiter than other spaces. Finally, enlarging the Commons makes it possible to have many different kinds of furniture: four-tops, long tables, high seating, the above pictured “farm” table, and soft, casual seating.

We also designed the Commons for flexibility, so that the limited space we have can be used for different activities throughout the day. The large room, flexible seating, and versatile displays support hosting events here. The Commons Meeting Room (not pictured) has large, sliding, glass doors so that it can integrate with the Commons during meals and events and close for meetings and classes.

Some features in the new Commons got a big upgrade. The new bathroom block features individual, private, gender-neutral stalls. The kitchen is modern, well-sized, and thoughtfully laid out. The display screens are coordinated and controlled using Raspberry Pi devices and touch pads. Wireless network and video connectivity exists throughout.

Beyond the Commons, we also installed flexible partitions between two pairs of classrooms in another building. Along with the Commons meeting room, these allow us to try three different ways to create a double-sized classroom, to inform how we design such spaces in the future. Larger spaces are essential to support intensive classes, class meetings, and special program days.

These changes did introduce new inconveniences. Since we could not add square footage during this phase of the project, we had to relocate some offices to different parts of the building. The staff room, College Counseling, and Makerspace were all affected. The latter two of these will ultimately gain brand new spaces when we build the second project on our list across the street.

Opening the transformed Commons generated new excitement and momentum, to build on the big changes we made to the school program in the last few years, and look forward to future construction and program development in the future.

Faculty Summer Reading 2019

Each summer, the UPrep faculty reads from a selection of books related to our strategic initiatives and professional growth areas. This year’s selections examine deeper learning, identity, and inclusion through research and memoir. Special thanks to Emily Schorr Lesnick and Veronica McGowan for selecting this year’s titles.

In Search of Deeper Learning

The Quest to Remake the American High School
Jal Mehta and Sarah Fine

book coverDrawing on hundreds of hours of observations and interviews at thirty different schools, Mehta and Fine reveal that deeper learning is more often the exception than the rule. And yet they find pockets of powerful learning at almost every school, often in electives and extracurriculars as well as in a few mold-breaking academic courses. These spaces achieve depth, the authors argue, because they emphasize purpose and choice, cultivate community, and draw on powerful traditions of apprenticeship. These outliers suggest that it is difficult but possible for schools and classrooms to achieve the integrations that support deep learning: rigor with joy, precision with play, mastery with identity and creativity. Harvard University Press

This book dives right into our ongoing work to bridge academic challenge and diversified ways of learning.

Whistling Vivaldi

How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do
Claude M. Steele

Claude M. Steele, who has been called “one of the few great social psychologists,” offers a vivid first-person account of the research that supports his groundbreaking conclusions on stereotypes and identity. He sheds new light on American social phenomena from racial and gender gaps in test scores to the belief in the superior athletic prowess of black men, and lays out a plan for mitigating these “stereotype threats” and reshaping American identities. W.W. Norton & Co.

While this book has been out for a while, it is an essential read for anyone who wants to understand the long-term and deeply-personal impacts that cultural inequality has on individuals, particularly with relation to achievement gaps in schools.

When They Call You a Terrorist

A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele

When They Call You a TerroristPatrisse Cullors’ first book cowritten by ashe bandele, is a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. A New York Times Best Seller – necessary and timely, Patrisse’s story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable. MacMillan

The memoir of Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors describes her childhood and family encounters with the criminal justice system, her experiences in schools, and her work to co-create the hashtag that has rocked the world.

Sissy

A Coming-of-Gender Story
Jacob Tobia

Sissy by Jacob TobiaFrom Jacob’s Methodist childhood and the hallowed halls of Duke University to the portrait-laden parlors of the White House, Sissy takes you on a gender odyssey you won’t soon forget. Writing with the fierce honesty, wildly irreverent humor, and wrenching vulnerability that have made them a media sensation, Jacob shatters the long-held notion that people are easily sortable into “men” and “women.” Sissy guarantees that you’ll never think about gender–both other people’s and your own–the same way again. Penguin Random House

The memoir of media sensation Jacob Tobia outlines their childhood experiences with gender and a path to gender healing.

Things That Make White People Uncomfortable

Michael Bennett and Dave Zirin

Michael Bennett adds his unmistakable voice to discussions of racism and police violence, Black athletes and their relationship to powerful institutions like the NCAA and the NFL, the role of protest in history, and the responsibilities of athletes as role models to speak out against injustice. Following in the footsteps of activist-athletes from Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick, Bennett demonstrates his outspoken leadership both on and off the field.

Written with award-winning sportswriter and author Dave Zirin, Things that Make White People Uncomfortable is a sports book for our turbulent times, a memoir, and a manifesto as hilarious and engaging as it is illuminating. Haymarket Books

This book by former Seahawk Michael Bennett breaks down his perspective on race and racism, college and professional sports, and an athlete’s impact in the world.

 

Speaking About Intensives

In January, I shared stories and observations about UPrep’s first intensive term at our State of the School event. The following video is cued to jump to my portion of the presentation.

Our First Intensives are Complete!

We just finished our first intensives term, the result of two years of planning and collaboration inside our school and with school and organization partners. I have written a blog post for UPrep to summarize how our first intensives began to meet the goals for student experience established for this project.

UPrep’s First Intensives Were a Great Success

 

Independent Study: Art in Spain, Peru and Mexico

Three students recently completed an impressive independent study in painting and Spanish language study. Pursuing independent study requires initiative, perseverance, collaboration, and responsibility, and that’s just to get started! Students further develop these habits in the course of their study. The group designed a course overview, researched painters from Spain, Peru, and Mexico, identified common themes in their work, and produced a series of paintings in the styles they studied.

For their final project, the students created an interactive mural in the style of David Alfaro Siquieros, integrated the theme of community at UPrep into the piece, and displayed it in the main hallway for people to experience.

Students often see the connections between the subjects that they study but rarely have more than a passing opportunity to conduct deep inquiry in an interdisciplinary format. As part of our ULab initiative, we are removing barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration, launching more interdisciplinary courses within the school curriculum, and making the process to propose an independent study clearer and more accessible to students.

Assessment for Next Generation Learning

A new article from EdSurge describes a MIT effort to design assessments for next generation learning. “Playful assessment” captures curiosity, creativity and critical thinking within the natural context of student learning activities.”It emphasizes recognizing and reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, and in response, identifying skills to improve on moving forward.”

While such habits of mind are recognized as essential for today’s learners and are frequently embedded in curriculum and lesson design, they are also difficult to systematically and accurately assess. Instruments such as the Mission Skills Assessment and SSAT Character Skills Snapshot have emerged in recent years but are disconnected from classroom curricula.  Effective teacher assessment is needed to both measure and deepen lasting next generation learning for students.

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

Three Kinds of Engagement

A wonderful, new synthesis of research identifies a main reason why students do not thrive in school and provides clear directions for improvement. The study, titled “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development” is published by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. While focused on public schools in Chicago, the study applies to any school where a gap persists between teacher expectations and student performance.

The study elegantly identifies three areas of student engagement: behavioral, emotional, and cognitive. The problem? Behavioral engagement is the most visible of the three, therefore teachers tend to focus on student behaviors more than their emotional or cognitive moments in the class. Most course and lesson design overlooks student emotional states and cognitive work. Interventions for low-performing students often focus on student behaviors and ultimately fail. From the study:

Lesson planning, content coverage, and test preparation can take all of educators’ time, leaving little time to reflect on why it is that not all students are fully engaged in the work that has been asked of them. A focus on student engagement requires a change in priorities from not only identifying how well students are meeting expectations, to also working to get all students able to meet those expectations.

The study is a potentially useful tool for school leaders, instructional coaches, teachers engaged in reflective self-improvement.

WorldStrides Summit on Global Awareness & Leadership

globe

Last week, our global programs director Brian and I spent two days at a WorldStrides-sponsored event in Philadelphia, at which we studied questions about optimal program design and student experience. The presenter lineup featured organization and school experts in global travel, providing a rich range of perspectives and wisdom on the topic.

Some highlights:

  • What is the overall purpose of your program? Curriculum, experience, or service?
  • What does your school community value? Is your global program aligned?
  • How much is global education represented in the rest of the school curriculum? Do students see the travel program connected to the rest of their school experience?
  • Has your school thoroughly studied student health and safety preparations and plans?
  • Do groups travel during or outside the school term?
  • Where does student leadership live in your travel program?

We have returned with a decent list of outstanding school travel programs of different types:

At UPrep, we are implementing the first large shift in our signature Global Link program in 10 years. Our new Intensive terms allow Global Link to travel during an intensive term rather than over spring break. So far, two trips have migrated into the January intensive, with plans to continue moving trips next year.

Adding a specific subject’s curriculum to the trip is a new feature of Intensive Global Link. Our first three examples are Human Rights in Colombia, Global Link American South, and Storytelling in Samoa. As a result, schools that have established strong curricular connections for global travel are of specific interest to us right now. From the above list, these include Ideaventions, Lawrenceville, and Trinity Palmer, at a minimum.

Finally, Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG) Executive Director Clare Sisisky presented three times on insights gleaned from GEBG’s 250 member schools, including broad perspectives on global program outcomes, school partnerships, conceptual frameworks, assessment instruments, and examples from model schools.

[Photo by Juliana Kozoski on Unsplash]

A Watch App That Goes For It

Why are advanced smartwatch apps so limited in their function and options? Have app developers tried too hard to imitate fitness trackers, even though the watches are capable of so much more? A year trying multiple running apps led me to wonder.

Then, Workoutdoors released its “massively improved” version 3.0 this past August, blowing the doors off every other app I tried. This app fully flexes the capabilities of GPS, maps, text displays, buttons, heart rate monitor, and more.

  

The app is infinitely customizable to one’s display preferences and comprehensive in its fitness activities. Multiple layouts, over 160 available data metrics, skillful use of text sizes and colors, split alerts, and live maps take this app to a new level.

I use different Workoutdoors screens for easy runs, tempo runs, events on an unfamiliar course, and even cycling. The hiking screens look intriguing. I’d like to try them. Remarkably, you can even create custom screens on the watch, although they are easier to create on the phone app.

  

Battery management, signal strength, and auto pause are all cleverly managed. Over 100 different metrics are available to suit one’s specific information wants. Workouts are automatically saved to Apple Workouts. Extensive summary data is available when you finish your workout. You can import GPX files to pre-load a workout course. This team thought of everything.

I hope that apps like this raise the bar for developers in other spaces beyond fitness, so that the smartwatch can become a truly useful digital companion, not just a limited accessory.

The Busy UPrep Blog

The UPrep blog has been very active in the past week, thanks to the great work of student and staff authors and the Communications team. Check out these recent titles, including one by yours truly.