In the past two weeks we’ve had two signature events on campus, each showing what it means for us to be a community of learners and what we can do to be more intentional about providing opportunities for our students and teachers to be meaning makers. We’re working hard to find ways to broaden our understanding of what it means to be educated for success in the 21stcentury, and we’re creating experiences for our students to make their learning more relevant to the world around us.
Two weeks ago Huntsville’s iteration of TEDx Youth was at Randolph for their annual conference. Shaped around the identification and communication of big ideas important to Huntsville’s youth, this event provided our students with an excellent opportunity to share their passions with a diverse audience of local TED enthusiasts. Randolph students in every division participated, and the great success of the day is all about how they are finding ways to be knowledge creators and sharers.
Fourth graders Anahita Maleknia and Regan Paulus discussed Randolph’s sister school initiative and the creation of a global community. Seniors Malia West and Taylor Alexander teamed up with four Butler High School students to share ideas on career exploration, while senior Zaki Ahmed presented Randolph’s plan for developing Randolph’s community learning initiative. Sophomore Mustafa Hassoun, in a talk entitled “America: Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,” explored his family’s past by looking at his parents’ courageous journey from their native Iraq under Saddam Hussein to their eventual move to the United States. Sixth graders Sam Hartley and Tyler Williams highlighted their understanding of seismological events locally, nationally, and internationally, and our Middle School Robotics Team presented their project that qualified them for state competition.
And then last Wednesday we partnered with the Village of Promise to host the Teachers Are Terrific event at Randolph. The idea came from conversations between the Village of Promise’s Bobby Bradley and Mason West, Randolph’s Director of Community Learning. Mason’s been planning for this event for weeks, essentially seeing the need to bring the wider community together to establish relationships, understand our mutual challenges, and identify opportunities that our students can craft in order to build a foundation of community learning here at Randolph.
We had over 150 in attendance, and it was quite a sight! The local AMC band provided musical accompaniment, and we had representatives from the Village of Promise, the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Second Mile, and the City Council. Over fifty Randolph faculty were there, and there was great representation from the faculties of University Place Elementary School and Butler High School, too. About fifteen Randolph students participated as note-takers, and they were assisted by student ambassadors from Butler High School.
This was a working session, and Mason did an excellent job of framing our discussions and keeping us on track. My table consisted of Butler High’s principal, Laura Hachar, the City Council’s Mark Russell, Village of Promise Board member and local businessman, Ernie Wu, Second Mile’s Bill McDowell, Randolph student Zaki Ahmed, and Butler High senior, Jaqueline Johnson. We were charged with first identifying the essential challenges we face at our schools. Ms. Hachar and Jaqueline were very candid and open about the difficulties they have at Butler, especially in the area of supporting every student there and holding the entire community to high expectations. Our challenges are different, but no less important. We seek to make learning more relevant for our students, expose them to others beyond our community, and provide them with opportunities that will prepare them to live out our mission to “enrich their families, communities, the nation, and the world.”
After grappling with these very different challenges, Mason had us pivot to a discussion predicated by “what if” statements. This was where we really began to see some opportunities emerge. We talked about how much better we are when we’re connected, rather than isolated. We highlighted some ideas that we can explore for future collaboration. Some were very idealistic and maybe far-fetched; others (like improved public transportation) were practical, if still costly. And Zaki and Jaqueline added that Huntsville needs a central place for the youth community to gather and build lasting friendships.
All in all it was an electric event, highlighting how much work there is to do and how our students can begin to make a difference through the platform of community learning. The end goal for this first year is for us to provide opportunities for Randolph students in every division to interact with the Village of Promise, learn more about Huntsville, and make connections between what they’re learning in class and how the world really works. One Randolph teacher told me that she plans to take a professional day to visit University Place so that she can see first-hand how her counterpart there is addressing a common curricular challenge. Others reported that community learning feels more real now than it had before.
And later Wednesday night a Randolph student participant sent me an email about the event that he called “fantastically eye-opening.” He enjoyed the opportunity just to listen to others, and through that experience, he sees ways for us to help University Place Elementary and Butler High, and also Randolph students: “This experience and others like it will help us become more cultured and aware of the world outside the Randolph cocoon.” He sees how this opportunity can fit into his education, and now he has an even better chance to understand fully why his education matters and what it can mean for him and his community.