The Met High School | Providence public school shows how student-driven learning can work


Editor's note: This story stems from the reporter's visit to The Met High School in Providence, R.I., as a participant in the Education Writers Association seminar, "Formula for Fairness, Striving for Educational Equity."

PROVIDENCE — Kiani Sincere Pope is a senior at The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center. But the spoken word poet and artist is better known as "Kleo Sincere" and her school's referred to as The Met High School. Neither of them tend to follow the traditional modes of learning, yet both of them are thriving.

On Nov. 30, the school opened its campus to a group of visiting reporters during a seminar about educational equity sponsored by the national Education Writers Association, designed to offer insights on how a student-driven model of education can work.

Pope, the state's first deputy youth poetry ambassador, opened up the session with an original poem "about black joy" and pride in being a black person and later shared the floor with Principal Tracy Terranova to answer questions about the school.

In fact, Pope said, it's her insatiable curiosity and constant questioning that frustrated her previous teachers and led her the The Met High School.

She said she questioned where the authors of her textbooks found their sources to write about the nation's history, pointing out that in most cases, history books aren't written by young, black women like her, thus limiting the scope of perspective and facts.

"Whose story is this?" she would ask. "How do we know it's true?"

"I just have questions," the student said. "Regular, traditional public schools didn't fulfill [the answers to] my questions. ... A lot of people listen to respond but not to communicate."

Pope — who, in addition to poetry, is interested in psychology and neurology — said her values and goals in life are to "be authentic, be empathetic, be impartial," and feels that The Met High School supports that.

The state-funded district established by the national nonprofit Big Picture Learning education network school focuses less on traditional classroom instruction and more on providing students career, technical and entrepreneurial skills driven by students' own interests. Admission is done through an application and lottery process. Students attend internships two days a week then work with an adult adviser and other students to pursue studies of their own interests in fields of English, mathematics, science, social studies and other academic subjects.

"At this age, kids are trying to find themselves," said Terranova. "Here, students can have the opportunities to try new things."

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In addition to her poetry, Pope, for example, spent time interning at a nursing home.

For Ronila Strew, an aspiring visual artist and designer who transferred into the school as a junior this year, her ability to thrive depends on her sense of safety.

"I used to be bullied all the time for what I was wearing. People thought my art was too dark," she said. "Here, people compliment me now all the time. They talk to me about my work. At first, I didn't know how to respond. Now, I love it."

Elias Turner, also a junior transfer student, said he struggled in a bigger public school. The Met High School offers class group sizes of 12 to 15 students, with no more than 180 students in a building.

"Last year I was procrastinating with a lot of my school work," Turner said.

At The Met High School, he said, students are given more freedom but it's not without consequences or demand.

"You have to be accountable," he said. "I have a lot of self-responsibility."

He said students there are constantly writing proposals for their curriculum, writing resumes for internships and applying for support and approval of their business and lesson plans. The reward is a chance to better oneself. In Turner's case, his attention to deadlines and his resume landed him an internship with a local radio station.

"It's awesome," he said.

Andrew Frishman, co-executive director for Big Picture Learning, said The Met model requires buy-in from all fronts, from municipal to educational leaders, students to parents, in order to demonstrate success. He said schools in the network focus on shaping long-term results, beyond graduation.

"For us, an outcome is 5, 10, 15 years later when we ask [the students], 'Where are you?' and 'How did your experience help you, shape you?" he said.

Frishman said their key focus is, "How do we prepare young people to be leaders in our community?"


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