by Ariel Jankord

What if we could erase all current ideas of “school” and truly start from scratch?

When you sit down to re-think how school would, could, or should be different, you realize it is a very difficult task. You see, since the moment we learned the word “school” we began creating a definition. The place you ride a bus to, the place you learn to read, the place you receive grades, the place you take a backpack, etc.

It is very difficult to truly go back to drawing board and imagine school differently. And don’t get me wrong, school is not a bad place. In fact, I love school! But A.J. Juliani has had me thinking lately… “Are we trying to do old things in new ways, or are we looking to do new things in new ways?”

In some ways, I feel we are still teaching the same-old, same-old, but just in new ways. We still memorize all 50 states and capitals, but we are going to use Kahoot, Youtube, and Kagan structures to help us. I never learned all 50 states and capitals to this day, yet I hold a master’s degree and teach the very grade level that I was supposed to have memorized them. Is this a valuable use of my student’s time? My students could find the name of the capital in less than 5 seconds with the touch of a button and their voice. (Shoot, now most don’t even have to touch a button, “Alexa…”)

So if I were to look at doing new things in new ways, I would imagine school like this…

In elementary, I would be as bold to say get rid of grades. When I say get rid of grades I mean no more overall percentages, from a myriad of tests and worksheets. Give parents feedback based on growth, here is where they started and here is where they are now. Teachers would concentrate on giving immediate and constructive feedback.

Focus on the learning, not on the grades.

Break down the barriers of grade levels. To a healthy degree of maturity and development levels allow those kids that can soar to soar. Give the kids that need extra support the time they need, instead of rushing them on or pushing them too hard. Allow students the opportunities to collaborate with older peers (“book buddies” but with more purpose).

I have twins, they have been read to the same amount of minutes since birth. They get the same amount of love, attention, and support from my husband and I. My daughter is an avid first grade reader and my son is below grade level. Am I concerned? NO! They are 6, yet he’s starting to feel inferior. He loves to code, has a longer attention span, and math comes easily to him. Eventually, the reading will come.

Field trips as often as possible. Here’s a real world problem students can work on… how can we decrease the cost of transportation for students? There are so many amazing and free resources outside of the school walls, but getting there costs an arm and a leg! Virtual field trips do not offer the same hands on experience that our littles need.

More time for play and creative exploring. Let kids be kids as often as possible. Right now, it seems impossible because the standards require so much of our kiddos. I truly believe if we could allow students some breathing room they would soar above what we ever imagined.

Lastly, I think a year round school model would provide an equitable education. Not all kids spend their summers going to camps, reading books at the poolside, and vacationing. In fact, a lot of kids fall 4 months behind in academics, go hungry, and are bored out of their minds.