What do you do if you have students who can’t safely get to school? If you are Steve Good and 5 Keys Charter School you bring the school to the students, with a mobile classroom inside a renovated bus. It’s a thoughtful and much needed innovation and should have us thinking hard, not just about this particular case, but whether in general the brick and mortar school and classroom, are a necessary backdrop to education or a stale and outmoded vision of what a school should be.
Charter Innovation at Work
This school was about meeting a need. Gang territory lines can be strict and unforgiving in some places, making even the trek to school a perilous one. As an article in EdSurge described it,
Good and his team are trying to solve a new problem: helping high school dropouts get their diplomas in the face of strict gang lines, rundown schools, and spotty internet. Their solution? Drive into high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods and teach students where they’re at—all from the seats of a repurposed bus.
the model provides a safer alternative to what’s out there now. “There’s no more concern than a brick-and-mortar classroom,” he says. “The bus will park at a site students are already comfortable with, where they feel safe. We have cameras, cell phones.” And because the bus moves, students on both sides of the gang line can attend, albeit at different times.
And 5 Keys has been at it for a while and showing outstanding success, again from EdSurge,
Five Key boasts a 15-year track record of helping some of the most in-need students get diplomas and GEDs through their accredited, California-approved curriculum and work development program. Currently, Five Keys serves 5,000 students each day—3,000 of them in the county jails and 2,000 in their community learning centers—99.9 percent of which are high school dropouts. The targeted approach seems to be working; while the state’s recidivism rate is 68 percent, only 28 percent of Five Keys students return to jail.
This is the type of autonomy and responsiveness that charter school originators envisioned. And the type I hope we see more of, and see districts adopting. Charters were originally envisioned as serving a research and development purpose for the broader public school system. This has largely not happened, but I hope that folks will look at this example and think harder about the implications.
Rethinking the school
When you close your eyes and think if a school, you probably picture a building. But why? When I talk to young people about their most impactful educational experiences most of them are not in school, they are in internships, real world experiences, sometimes extracurriculars, or with that teacher who makes school not feel like school.
And OUSD’s most demanded high schools, LIFE Academy and MetWest, are those that really focus on externships and learning in the community. MetWest, who I know better, has kids out in the community 2 days a week. And again just doing the math, if kids are out 40% of the time, it may call for a totally different type of building, and one that can serve more students than it can hold at one time.
So why not more of this, rethinking using the community as a classroom, or the educational resources coming to kids?
Mobile classrooms could do fun summer work with kids and families in the community. They could be a partial solution to chronic truancy, or they could bring a mobile maker space or lab space to schools or throughout the community, or so much more. Our real barrier to growth here is the fixed image of the school in the back of our minds, and the limits of our imagination.
Great to see the autonomy that charters were designed for being leveraged by 5 Keys for some of our most challenged youth. And love to see a school bus turned into a school, now we need to just rethink the traditional “school” and come up with an improved vehicle for learning.