At any school, the first month of the year comes with a healthy helping of trial and error, adjustments, and learning experiences for teachers and students alike.  At a brand new school, though, those things occur tenfold.

Research Triangle High School opened to students one month ago today.  In that month we’ve made incredible strides in developing our innovative, ambitious educational model.  We’ve had to address rules that we didn’t even consider before (kids still use laser pointers??).  And we’ve hit our share of bumps in the road, but we as a community will be better for it.

Everyone in the building has had a unique experience, so I’m reluctant to speak for the faculty as I’ll sometimes do.  But here are a few of the things that I’ve learned in the past month.

Something I accomplished this month: creating an athletic shield/logo thing.

1) Pump the brakes.  As I’ve previously mentioned, ninety percent of my teaching experience came in American history, with 11th and 12th graders.  I’ll readily admit that in the first couple of weeks, the amount of work I assigned may have been a bit over the top, considering 1) they’re only freshmen and 2) the middle schools from which many of our students came didn’t teach some of these students basic organizational and collaborative skills that are so necessary in our project-based model.  There are plenty of criticisms you could level at Cabarrus County Schools, but the middle schools that fed into Robinson did a phenomenal job of preparing kids for high school.  Oh, and speaking of which…

2) Homework completion is going to be a struggle.  The flipped model is a fantastic educational strategy, but it does rely on a couple of other things happening in order for it to work, one of which is the students watching the videos and doing the work outside of class in order to be able to do the project-based, hands-on work in class.  Too many of our students have never seen homework as a priority and are therefore not following through on their assignments.  It has come to the point that we have been assigning “working lunch” (a nice way of saying “lunch detention”) to students who have fallen too far behind on their work and need some more structured time to get caught up.  I am already seeing dividends.

3) The kids love this school.  I think that early on, this may be the most important thing.  Among many of the students, there is a palpable sense of buy-in to how we’re doing school here.  And for the students that were forced to come here by their parents or have had negative school experiences in the past, many of them are beginning to slowly come around.  There’s a strong sense of community, there is very little cliqueishness, and behavior problems are hardly ever anything major.

The biggest adjustment thus far has been in getting students to utilize some basic skills.  I’m loath to say that content has taken a back seat, because plenty of our students are more advanced and need the challenge, but for many of our students the skills have to come first before they can move on.  I’m proud to work at a place trying to undo some of the damage done by these students’ previous schools.  I’m confident that we have the will and the resources to change the world for some of these kids.

I can’t wait to see what the coming months have in store.

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