A key part of innovation is being first and Manual High School students are leading the pack -- they rose Monday morning to begin Denver Public Schools longest school year in an effort to continue closing the achievement gap and give students more time with teachers.
Manual was the first DPS school to acquire innovation status as part of a 2008 act that gives the school more flexibility from district requirements in an effort to get schools to think outside the box. There are now 33 schools operating in the act's innovation zone.
In addition to adding an extra 39 days to its calendar, Manual Director of Community Engagement Vernon Jones said the school is adding another hour to their daily schedule by having the new school hours run from 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
According to Jones, 25 days of the now 210-day school year will be dedicated to off-campus "experiential learning" -- at no additional cost to families.
Jones told the Denver Post last year that the school is still trying to raise funding for those trips because "money shouldn't be an obstacle" to families.
"Manual has seen solid growth since reopening, and that must be attributed to the commitment and hard work of our students, their families, our staff, and a very supportive community," Manual's new principal Brian Dale said in a statement.
The school is no stranger to adapting to bold changes to bolster student growth. In 2006 Manual was shut down for a year due to poor test scores and dropping enrollment, but since it's reopening, graduated 89 percent of its "first" senior class.
"All students deserve a great school that is willing to courageously confront the challenges that impede their success in college, career, and life. That is who Manual is," Jones said.
Jones says that although the school is not air-conditioned, it has been piloting a cooling system to make sure the environment will be comfortable for staff and students through the July and August months. According to a report last year by 9News, each room will be equipped with an industrial cooling unit and teachers will be compensated with a 25 percent pay raise to work the longer school year.
The school's new "experiential learning" program that will help fill in the summer curriculum is designed to be grade-specific. Jones elaborates:
Example of a possible experiential learning unit for a Manual 10th grader: Students spend 10 weeks in a course studying the civil rights movement. At the end of the 10 weeks they will have an experiential week in the South that takes them to some of the places, allows students and teachers to meet some of the people, and to live what they’ve learned in the classroom for the last 10 weeks.
Manual's elongated school year will have no impact on the DPS budget, according to Jones, since the new model will be sustained by grants and philanthropic partners.
The Art of the Graphic Novel
Newton North High School in Newton, MA revamped their English electives for the 2012 - 2013 school year. "The Art of the Graphic Novel" is just one of the <a href="http://thenewtonite.com/english-departement-adds-five-new-classes/" target="_hplink">five new courses</a> offered, including "Memoir," "Write On," "Black Voices," and "Contemporary Voices."
American Rebels and Romantics
At Concord-Carlisle High School in Concord, MA, you can take a variety of unusual English classes, but you won't see a standard AP English class or any other AP humanities course. Why? Principal Peter Badalament told the <em><a href="http://www.boston.com/news/education/articles/2012/06/24/advanced_placement_participation_varies_widely_between_high_schools_as_tough_tests_gain_popularity/" target="_hplink">Boston Globe</a></em>, "The philosophy is that the courses we have in those disciplines are superior to the AP courses."
American Civil War
Amanda Ingle teaches a Civil War elective at Newsome High School in Lithia, FL. "The favorite part of the course for most students," Ingle told<a href="http://bloomingdale.patch.com/articles/unique-elective-class-offered-at-newsome-high-school" target="_hplink"> Patch.com</a>, "is the reenactment we perform of fighting in the trenches." The students flip over their desks and use paper balls as ammunition to recreate battles.
Fashion Fundamentals, Fashion I - Fashion III
Students at Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield, Illinois can pursue an interest in fashion alongside their academic courses. Course topics range from construction and design to fashion etiquette and how to make it in the industry. "I'm hoping to go into fashion marketing," SHG student Emilee Miller told the <em><a href="http://www.sj-r.com/features/x1535091779/Unique-classes-give-teens-unique-experiences?zc_p=0" target="_hplink">State Journal-Register</a></em>. "So what I learn in this class should give me a few pointers for later on in my career."
Wise Individualized Senior Experience
Miramonte High School in Orinda, CA seems to have found the cure for senioritis. Instead of second-semester senior English, seniors can opt to create their own individualized program of study for 10 hours each week. Since the program's induction three years ago, students have written sketch comedies, practiced women's self-defense, studied reconstructive surgery, and became a certified as an EMT. "It's one of the best things I've ever done in my life," student Brooke Bundy told the <em><a href="http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/ORINDA-High-school-seniors-design-courses-2629383.php" target="_hplink">San Francisco Chronicle </a></em>.
"Reading Like A Historian"
Imagine taking a history class without a single lecture or textbook. Sounds awesome, right? That's the idea behind the nontraditional curriculum in place at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco, CA. Known as <a href="http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/march/rethinking-history-education-030512.html" target="_hplink">"Reading Like A Historian,"</a> the approach teaches students how to analyze documents and ask questions, rather than encouraging rote memorization.
There's no better way to make a lesson stick than to make it enjoyable -- which is why video game publisher Valve is bringing <em><a href="http://venturebeat.com/2012/06/22/portal-2-schools-education/" target="_hplink">Portal 2</a></em>, an "edutainment" video game, to schools. Teachers can use the program to create maps and games for students to solve using problem-solving skills, physics, and math. Would you want to bring <em>Portal 2</em> to your school?