These next two weeks at the National Alliance we will feature a compilation of blogs and stories from charter school students, teachers, and leaders from across the country going back to school. Check back between Monday, August 28 and Friday, September 8 to see new features in our #Back2School Series. Or follow us at @charteralliance to keep up with the latest in the series!
The back to school season is always an exciting time for the more than 21,000 estimated students in Idaho’s public charter schools. However, nothing is more exhilarating than a charter school opening with the autonomy to provide a malleable and supportive learning environment that fits the needs of its students—similar to the school below that I had opportunity to see open its doors first-hand.
The automatic doors whoosh open to reveal a reception desk occupied by Daniel, the friendly Center Coordinator. Behind him is a large, welcoming, open room. To the right, modern furniture invites students to get comfortable and relax. Teachers’ desks border the left-hand wall and each has a whiteboard displaying a favorite quote and personal artifacts that offer clues about their personalities. There are no cubicles, no walls. In lieu of individual desks for students, large tables are equipped with pens, pencils, and paper—students don’t have to provide their own. Down the middle of the space, there are three cozy classrooms. It feels more like a community center than a school.
This is Pathways in Education – Nampa (PIE), a new public charter school in the Nampa School District that officially opened its doors on Tuesday, August 7th. I had a chance to catch up with the team, who is very excited to offer this innovative model to Nampa area students.
The Pathways model, while new to Idaho, is a well-established educational model that has already helped 9-12th graders in other states get back on track to graduation.
Their model blends in-person instruction and testing with independent at-home study to provide a flexible and supportive learning environment. Students have scheduled appointments with their teachers and scheduled small-group instruction, but the majority of the work is self-driven. Students are accountable for their own success, which, “creates a great sense of ownership in the students,” according to Social Science Teacher Craig Naylor, who has seen the transformation firsthand.
Math teacher Nikki Yates shared a preliminary success story: one young lady was so excited to start 9th grade at Pathways, but 8th grade math stood in her way. Her desire was so strong that she came in at all hours to finish up her 8th grade math unit so she would be an official 9th grader by the first day of school. This is what Pathways in Education – Nampa is all about—helping students who are at risk of dropping out discover excitement for and ownership of their learning, so they can find their own way to graduation and the success that lies beyond.
In addition to coursework, there are also opportunities to travel. Students from all of the Pathways schools come together to embark on learning expeditions to sustainable farms, working ranches, the U.S. Capitol, and even overseas – this year, four students from Nampa will travel to Cuba! These opportunities are provided to students at no cost, and offer them the chance to step outside their comfort zone; challenging them to grow intellectually and socially. During their travels, students earn both academic and community-service credits.
Rounding out the student travel portfolios also includes visits to nearby colleges and universities, which allow the students to get a look at post-secondary options. Coupled with post-secondary counseling, each young adult leaves Pathways with a fully developed college or career plan – this is truly more than a school, it is a pathway to a successful future.
An earlier version of this post was shared on Bluum’s website.
Kristen McCarver is Idaho Charter School Network’s Communications Coordinator