It’s a little difficult.
We have a school that is known for its innovation, its inclusivity, its civic awareness, its cool science programs and exciting rock videos. The Primary and Middle Schools at THS win awards for teamwork and creative problem solving, and they work to provide real solutions to global problems. When people come to visit, they talk about the atmosphere of productivity and earnest engagement, and they watch kids who are remarkably young make presentations or movies or inventions related to real life issues. With this as a precedent, how can THS envision a High School that encourages these same attributes in older teenagers while still meeting the requirements of demanding universities and career paths? After all, isn’t the common perception of teenagers that they are disrespectful, contentious and hormone-driven? Shouldn’t we use a heavy hand, packed schedule and lots of tests to keep them under control? Shouldn’t we?
Well, no. This is the age when great philosophies are formed, when lifelong friendships are made, when values are solidified and shared, when people ponder the moral and ethical dilemmas of their generation. It is an age of preparation for the future of university and life choices, but it is also an age of consolidation of experiences and lessons from their past and their friends’ pasts. It is an age of great individuality and independence on the one hand, and a time of great interdependence on the other. It is a time of intense idealism and the search for identity and truth. There is no other time in life that is as pivotal in creating the adult one is to become than the years of adolescence. It is not a time to be squandered.
At many schools, students are too busy with the social and academic demands of the day to do these things deeply. At home, they have extra classes and tutoring and homework and phone calls and not enough sleep. Research shows that for far too many teenagers today, adolescence is a time of mental and psychological stress that may precede a life of recurrent depression, anxiety, addiction or dependence. Their purpose becomes (at best) to get a good grade, and their natural instinct to search for truth or save the world is pushed to the distant future or discarded entirely.
At THS, we hope that students have a time when they can bond over a common purpose, when they can sit and think, when they become close enough and open enough to begin to address one-on-one or in groups the problems that they have not had time to discuss in more structured settings. We want kids to reach epiphanies or have great insights or make great revelations or resolutions during their time at school, not just to please a teacher but to understand themselves and their world better.
To do this, we build time into their day that allows them to study their independent interests or pursue an individual or group goal, and our classes provide avenues for real discussion and action. We begin a bit later (at 9:00) because we know that adolescents need adequate sleep. The school day ends at 5:00, which allows us to minimize homework so that students can pursue outside interests, relate to their families or friends, and get to bed on time. We provide intensive block classes that allow deeper reflection and thought, college courses for those who are ready for them, and opportunities for students to make a real difference in their community or their world.
It’s not so much that we expect them to find a cure for cancer or pollution, write a best-selling book or create an award-winning film, but rather that we hope they will feel empowered and inspired to do these things. And we provide an advisory team that meets with students individually not only to talk about college preparation but to talk about life plans and to consider important choices.
Yes, there will be pressure and stress. There will probably be some heartbreak and confusion. There will be uncertainty and mistakes and striving for improvement. But these are the things of which life is made, and it is important to experience them in an atmosphere that is safe and supportive during a time of life that is full of hope and fury.
At THS, we believe that High School is a time when students can learn to do good things well. Luckily, most adolescents are striving to do just that.
Read about our THS High School students' collaborative project with Maker Bay and Cesar Harada in designing prosthetics to help a disabled dog. Click HERE.