A recent post analyzed the waitlist numbers for DC’s traditional public schools and charter schools. Jessica Wodatch, executive director and one of the founders of Two Rivers Public Charter School, sent this response.
I agree with Natalie Wexler that “school waitlist data can tell us what families want.” But Wexler didn’t point out what the two schools with waiting lists of over 1,000 students, Two Rivers and Mundo Verde public charter schools, have in common: Both are Expeditionary Learning schools.
Expeditionary Learning is a model that emphasizes interactive, project-based learning along with student engagement and character development. EL schools are powerful learning communities where students learn by doing.
What does that mean? Two Rivers’ eighth-graders recently studied genetics and ethics. But instead of reading chapters from textbooks and filling out worksheets, their expedition asked the question, “Who owns my DNA, and under what circumstances would I share it?”
Students read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, delved into the genetics behind DNA, and ultimately wrote the script for a mock trial of Johns Hopkins Hospital, which used Lacks’ DNA without her or her family’s permission. The students shared their learning with the author of the book and were invited to meet her and several members of the Lacks family.
This type of learning not only cements the basic facts about genetics, but also allows students to develop and grow their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Our younger students engage in the same approach. Recently our first-graders tackled a study of economics through the following problem: “Students at the local homeless shelter don’t have books. How can we help them?”
Our students set out to open a store to raise money. They surveyed the school to find out what they should sell (popcorn won), wrote letters to families asking them to invest in the store, purchased supplies, wrote jingles, created posters, and advertised and operated their store.
Students were in charge of making the sales and keeping track of the money. At the end of the expedition, they returned investors’ money with interest and created an economics coloring book they shared with other students.
They raised more than $200, which they used to purchase books for the shelter. Our six- and seven-year-olds learned valuable and complex lessons about economics by engaging with difficult and meaningful tasks.
At a time when many schools have taken the joy out of learning, Expeditionary Learning schools put it front and center. By asking students to be leaders of their own learning and engaging them in purposeful inquiry, we help them acquire not only basic skills but also the critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills required for success in life. And they have fun doing it.
We at Two Rivers are humbled by the waitlist for our school. We are opening another campus this fall to help address it. But we are not surprised at the demand for this educational approach and are encouraged to see more schools around the city embracing it.
What do the thousands of names on waitlists for Two Rivers and Mundo Verde tell us? That parents want educational models where students learn by doing, develop critical thinking skills, and are active participants in their education. That’s the not-so-secret sauce of DC’s most in-demand schools.
Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.