I’ve blogged about the Big Picture schools before, but they’re worthy of more attention. Founded in a gritty neighborhood of South Providence, then spreading around the globe, the schools operate without grading students, yet 94% graduate on time and go on to succeed with higher education or jobs.
Dennis Littky was the original driving force behind the school, recognizing that true learning could best be nurtured on a one-on-one level, built around a child’s genuine passions. Every student begins their education here with a personal interview and subsequently a personal education program, usually involving considerable time out in the community, serving as an intern in a subject that interests them. This is supplemented with more conventional classroom time, but even this is tailored to their needs.
The Big Picture schools go beyond connecting to students – their “community engagement specialists” actively reach out to the surrounding community, becoming a resource for the whole neighborhood. They do such a good job of this that they find less of a need for security measures, at least at their stand-alone sites. They bank on the fact that their students and neighbors deeply appreciate them, and as a result are far less likely to cause trouble. This wide open campus approach isn’t universal – as they’ve expanded, many of their programs have been integrated into existing campuses with more conventional approaches, and in those cases the sites may have more of the security measures that are becoming increasingly commonplace. Even the founding site reportedly now uses proximity cards for access control, and although the doors are open much of the school day, they do have the capacity for immediate electronic lockdown.
Most important, their commitment to, and belief in, an emphasis on personal connectivity, along with relatively open campuses, is particularly impressive because their schools often pop up in rough neighborhoods. Despite the fact they they’ve lost at least ten students to violence out in Providence over the past fifteen years, none of those incidents have come to campus.
The bottom line is, overall, it works. Their emphasis on a positive school culture and positive academics is front and center, and it has paid off. The more I look at schools the more I circle back to their approach as a model I can get behind, built around a philosophy that makes positive connectivity an absolute priority.