Over the past three years, I have been told a number of times that the work that we do at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School is innovative, outside the box, and exciting. Sometimes the word ‘bold’ even creeps into the equation. Certainly the experience-based learning environment is highly engaging and plays to students’ passions, but the bottom line is that it is the best practice for middle school aged kids that need a variety of roads to experience success. While some see this work as ‘bold,’ we see it as necessary as it outlines the best learning practices for our kids at this moment.
Being bold has meant holding true to our principals in the face of the gale-forced winds of change blowing from federal mandates and a growing for-profit wing of education that pushes for a brand of education that is standardized to the point of sanitizing our field of education of new ideas and innovation.
Being bold has meant doubling-down on the initiatives that help children in poverty when the easiest route would have been to tend to the noisy parents in the system of the best and brightest students. Being bold has meant working on ideas that no one has on the radar because they were good things for kids and teachers even though there were crickets chirping when you talked with colleagues in other places about the work that we are doing for kids. Being bold can mean being lonely, even in a time of interconnected schools and social media where a lot of bold schools can meet, chat and support the cause.
Being a bold school means nothing without providing results toward your definition of success as well as the definition of success of the community, state and federal bodies that oversee education. While the first level of success–as defined by the comprehensive internal mechanisms within the school–is the most important, the second level of success is important as it provides the space and inoculations necessary to remain innovative, progressive and bold.
For the educators at Maplewood Richmond Heights Middle School, we have focused on building the holistic child that grows as a scholar, leader, citizen, and steward during their learning time with us. This means valuing the experiences and opportunities that are available to students to be in nature, be in the presence of leaders, and serve as active citizens in the community.
Over the last ten years, these metrics have the superior means for us to judge our bold programming that has focused on surrounding our students with the best people and best programming, so that the best comprehensive results would be possible. This has materialized, and though we continue to yearn for greater results, we are able, at times, to take a few moments to celebrate and recognize the incredible things that can emerge from a school that decides to write its own playbook and not fall into the safety of the playbook of everyone around them.
Along with the positive results of our internal metrics, we have been pleased that the community, state, and federal officials are seeing us grow in impressive ways on their measure of success as well. As we slowly tell our story and explain our success to greater audiences, we are able to use all of these results to lay the foundation for explaining that bold, innovation and out of the box schools take students well beyond the swallow expectations of test scores and toward a place of long-term success in university and career.