TGIF! Oct 13 2017


Happy Friday the 13th!  We continue to explore potential locations – did a walkthrough of one facility this week and proceeding with due diligence.  Nothing we can publicly announce yet and still much work to do, but please keep your fingers crossed!

Since I’ve been digging through the fire code much of today, we’ll keep this TGIF short and sweet with just a couple of learning links:

HS Stress and Anxiety

From the NY Times this week:

For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ ” Luthar says. “There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”

It’s tempting to blame helicopter parents with their own anxiety issues for that pressure (and therapists who work with teenagers sometimes do), but several anxiety experts pointed to an important shift in the last few years. “Teenagers used to tell me, ‘I just need to get my parents off my back,’ ” recalls Madeline Levine, a founder of Challenge Success, a Stanford University-affiliated nonprofit that works on school reform and student well-being. “Now so many students have internalized the anxiety. The kids at this point are driving themselves crazy.”

Life Skills Matter

From a (British) research study published yesterday:

Essential life skills such as confidence, motivation, resilience and communication are associated with better academic outcomes and better prospects in the workplace, and there is an increasing emphasis on their value, given labour market trends towards automation. While ‘character’ has traditionally been a focus of British private school education, provision in the state sector has been patchy, and it is only recently that a concerted move has been made towards prioritising life skills education for all children.

There is wide recognition of the importance of such life skills, with 88% of young people, 94% of employers and 97% of teachers saying that they are as or more important than academic qualifications. In fact, more than half of teachers (53%) believe that life skills are more important than academic qualifications to young people’s success and 72% believe their school should increase their focus on teaching life skills.

In closing….

Thanks for your continued support!  Please continue to share our mission with others!


TGIF! Sep 15 2017


We’ve had a few long newsletters in recent weeks, so how about a short and sweet one?

Update update

(The title above was a typo as I searched for the right adjective.  Then I decided I kind of liked it as is – so here’s our ‘update update’.)

Summer is always a slow season in the education arena, and this one was no exception.  However, with the new school year fired up we are making some good progress as we approach the end of the quarter!  The two big things on our radar are facility and fundraising.  On the former we are working to nail down our location – vetting the feasibility of our frontrunner in terms of availability, zoning, cost, timing, and terms. On the fundraising front, we will be meeting with the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation next week and we very much look forward to their assistance and advice as we kick off that very important aspect of our school-founding journey!

Heard in the community…

I attended a meeting earlier this week which was held to solicit a wide variety of feedback to inform a local nonprofit’s upcoming strategic planning process.  In attendance were representatives from other non-profits with a variety of missions, local governments, local schools, etc. It was a big, diverse group.  It was amazing how, despite all the potential social issues facing our community, one of the top themes that emerged from the conversations was youth social and emotional health.  I look forward to reading a complete summary of the feedback they gathered; I think it will be helpful to our organization as well!

Learning Links

Speaking of mental health, a reminder that we all need time to daydream:

In closing….

What topics should we cover in the coming weeks?  Feel free to drop me a line with your questions and suggestions, to make this newsletter the most relevant to you!


TGIF! Sep 1 2017


I wish each and every one of you a relaxing and fun Labor Day weekend, and all the best to parents and kids heading back to school. Here are a couple of “challenges to conventional wisdom” for you to ponder about this thing we call school.

On the difference between school and summer camp

Blake Boles in The Art of Self-Directed Learning writes:

“School taught me how to memorize a fact until Friday and alter the margins on an essay to create a higher page count; camp taught me how to figure out what I want, take the initiative, conquer my fears, own my victories, and learn from my failures. To my teenage sensibilities, the annual ratio of camp to school didn’t make sense. Why didn’t I go to camp most of the year and then head off to school for a couple months to learn grammar, algebra, and whatever else camp didn’t teach?”

On teenage brains

Katherine Williams, author and mom of two (now grown) Self-Directed learners, recently wrote on the ASDE blog about the various studies you have probably read showing that teens develop the emotional, impulsive parts of their brains ahead of the rational prefrontal cortex.  She writes:

“Science and academia are working to understand the disconnected neurology of teenagers. There are tons of scans and studies telling us that American teenagers aren’t fully inhabiting their prefrontal cortices. And what a relief! This news is so easy to hear. It takes all the pressure off our schools, our parenting, and our culture. …[T]eenagers aren’t justifiably angry and given to the kind of impulsivity and craving for freedom we might expect of released prisoners. [T]eenagers are sub-brained pre-adults. It’s nature, not nurture. Phew! Just look at the scans…”

Do you feel the set-up coming?  She goes on to point out that that virtually every scientific study you have ever read about teens (at least in the U.S.) is in fact a study of teenagers under the influence of our current (traditional) model of schooling – simply because that is how the vast majority of kids are educated.  Here’s the punchline, and it’s a zinger:

“Consider a 2016 study from Brown University, “Infants Use Prefrontal Cortex in Learning,” published in the Journal of Neuroscience. This study has shown that infants make consistent use of their prefrontal cortex. If infants are employing the same neurological tools as adults in learning, it may be that scans of [traditionally] schooled teenagers have measured the extent of brain damage inflicted on teenagers in our culture.”


In closing….

Hope I rattled a few of your own assumptions – talk these ideas over with your kids, spouse, nieces or nephews this weekend!


TGIF! Jun 30 2017


Keepin’ it short as sweet as we roll into the holiday.

Learning Links

John’s Hopkins finds 19-year-olds are as sedentary as 60-year-olds.  Could the fact that high schoolers have a “job” that one high school teacher described thus: “What other ‘job’ is there where you work all day, come home, have dinner, then work all night, unless you’re some type A attorney? It’s not a good way to live one’s life. You miss out on self-reflection, community.”

From the 74 million: “There is a false divide between the “college-for-all” and “career and technical education” crowds. By offering career preparation to ALL students – internships, skills certifications, CTE and college classes – “students who go on to attend four-year colleges can see higher earnings while working their way through school ($12 to $18 per hour, vs. minimum wage) and, perhaps more important, accrue valuable professional experiences and contacts. Early job exposure helps inspire and motivate students to consider higher positions in these fields — and avoid careers that seem less attractive after closer inspection.”

Looking for more articles?  We post several each week on our Facebook page – check it out!

In closing….

Have a great weekend and a very happy Fourth!



TGIF! May 26 2017


Wow!  What a great event Wednesday night.  I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share our school design with you, see your excitement and most importantly take time to answer your questions and hear your feedback.  Given all the end-of-school-year activities, concerts, sporting events and more, there were many people who told me they were interested but could not attend.  Should we do this again?  August perhaps?

Info Night download/debrief

If you couldn’t make it to our information night, I will make the presentation slides available next week. After sharing more details from parent and community feedback, the bulk of the conversation was sharing what this high school will include!  Our breakout groups chose to deep dive on internships, motivation, and advanced coursework/college credit.  I will spend some time over the next few weeks answering more of your questions on those topics, and more, in these pages.  Let’s start with…


Many of you have seen the vet video I’ve posted previously.  But one question that was raised was, “what about younger students, what kind of internships can they do (legally and capability-wise)?”  You also asked about how internship mentors and teacher-advisors stay in contact and how the internships tie into academic learning.  This short video answers many of these questions.

Why to How, Part V

New subscribers can read the first four segments, which traced our “why” to “what” to “how”, on our blog. Last week we dove into the first two keys of our “how” – ownership and personalization. Here’s our final installment in this series, wrapping up the last two keys of how we deliver on our vision for each student to gain the knowledge and experience they need to construct a life of meaning and purpose.

The third key is relationships.  Our relationships define our culture and are central to our mental health and happiness.  By limiting the size of the school to about 200 students, we ensure that everyone knows and is known by everyone else.  We organize the school into multi-age (9th/10th and 11th/12th) “crews”, made up of 18 students and one teacher-advisor.  By staying with one crew and advisor for two years, deep relationships develop as peers and adult coach and support one another.  Students at schools using an advisory model always use the same word to describe their crew – family.  And students will have to work at developing and managing these authentic relationships – skills that are critical for their future, both in the working world and more importantly in their interpersonal lives.

The fourth and final key is real-world experience.  This is how, within a relationship-based culture of ownership and personal development, kids are truly able to make the leap from childhood to adulthood.  By engaging with adult society – through substantial internship programs beginning in 9th grade, through Impact Capstone (our 4-year service project), and through real responsibility in the micro-economy that is the school itself – kids are able to learn and test real skills in real situations. This gives them the all-important feedback they need about what behaviors work out well and which ones not so well; what kinds of activity and environments allow them to be the best version of themselves, and which leave them drained and unfulfilled.  And, it gives them a sense of purpose and value, to have shown – to themselves and others – that they can contribute to the world in way that is meaningful and valuable.

 Learning Links

This piece on stress and learning shows that you can’t just slap on more open-ended problems in an otherwise traditional environment.  When it’s still about grades and other extrinsic markers of performance, there’s a shock factor as students try to figure out how to “be right”.  Lots to think about here.

Do you want to learn more about Big Picture schools? Here’s a quick overview from their website.

In closing….

Welcome to those who are new to our mailing list.  Look for a “TGIF” every Friday in your inbox.  Feel free to forward on to others who may be interested!


TGIF! Mar 31 2017


And Happy Spring Break! Short and sweet newsletter this week.  New readers – links to our blog (past newsletters), Facebook page, and website are all in the footer.  Please check them out – and thanks for subscribing!

College, Career, and Life Ready

I have been thinking about this phrase a lot this week, probably because it’s included in about every third education headline that comes across my Facebook feed.  (Such as this post.  And this one.)  The truth is, the phrase is bugging me beyond belief.  First of all, it’s a little insulting – are not our high school students living, right now?  Life does not begin at college graduation!  And second, I think the order is all wrong.  If we unshackle our teenagers to live lives of meaning and purpose now, then we enable the experiences and self-discovery they need to find a possible career. And, then, the decisions about post-secondary education become much clearer.

Innovations HS – Salt Lake City

Another cutting edge public high school for your reading pleasure.  You’ve likely heard the debate about high school start times – one the one hand, teens changing sleep cycles argue for later start times, yet sports and other obligations (not to mention district bus schedules!) push for earlier times.  Innovations High implemented flex-time – yep, choose your own schedule.  This is something I’ve actually thought of in our design, but thought it was too far-out to be workable.  I’ll be studying Innovations more closely!  Love all the ideas popping up around as communities really are re-imagining high school.


In closing….

Next issue in two weeks!  Enjoy your Spring Break.