Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Senioritis or a Senior Year Shout Out for Change?

Senioritis or a Senior Year Shout Out for Change?

Walking through the kitchen door she spotted the acceptance letter from the community college lying on top of a stack of mail. She had applied four months earlier and its arrival was timely. Early December, his letter arrives from the Marine Corps stating his departure for basic training in six months. She has dreamed about going to this state school for the last few years and admissions responded positively. Working part time through school over the last two years, his plan for full time employment at the auto shop has been promised, with a full schedule beginning two weeks after graduation! Now what?
Now what? This question concerns me as an educator of K-12 and higher education…
Visiting public high schools and talking with seniors and staff coupled with greeting freshmen, sophomores and juniors in my college courses, the response is always the same! “Yes, Dr. Lori, the last part of my senior year was a waste! It didn’t matter what I did or how I did, even if the colleges told me I had to keep up my grades, they rarely check!” Year after year in many public high schools, seniors in their second semester subconsciously take four months off becoming increasingly bored, restless, feeling unproductive, and tired while developing mind habits (neuro- pathways) in the brain that do not bode well for their future school performance, work ethic inside professions and job sustainability. Research reports that in this time the United States has the highest college drop-out rate of any country reaching close to 40 percent! This is a national crisis and yet, at the district and school levels, there is something we can do to change the trajectory of this listless, apathetic and stressful period of time that plagues many adolescents who prepare for one of the most monumental independent shifts in their lives. The change calls for collaboration, engagement and a renewed perspective on higher education and job preparation during these later high school years. I cannot imagine anything more significant than equipping our young adults with knowledge of their strengths, passions, abilities and the opportunity to experience and discuss this world of future learning- right before it becomes a reality! In these late adolescent years, the frontal lobe of the brain is still developing based on the experiences and environment provided. This is the area of the brain where the sub skills of decision-making, problem solving, empathy, emotional check-ins, planning and organizing are unfolding. It is imperative in this senior year in high school we as educators, parents and community are aware of the high need for experiences that stimulate learning connections in this time before students go out into the world.

According to research of David Shenk, author, lecturer and filmmaker, we are living in a time when adaptive behaviors are critically important for success. Yes, we need the rigor of math and linguistics, science and technology, but we also desperately need the creative genius of each and every student to be untapped and remembered. In David’s most recent book, “The Genius in All of Us,” he reminds us, “Limitations in achievement are not due to inadequate genetic assets, but in our ability to tap into what we already have.” What does this new science of genetics mean for educators and students? We now know that the environment we create, the opportunities we provide in the classroom are integrated and interact with the thousands of genes to produce dynamic strengths and expressions of multiple intelligences. Children develop only as the environment demands development.

In a perfect world, my hope is that the enthusiasm, curiosity and zest for learning is never lost… but it often times is and we occasionally become robotic in our quest for closing achievement gaps, settling for compliancy and mastering the tests, while focusing on simply getting to college. Howard Gardner states in his newest book, “Five Minds for the Future,” that the skill to be addressed and applied in this 21st century is “synthesis.” We are living in a time of such diverse and rapid incoming knowledge that our students need to be able to take all of the parts and elements from a variety of disciplines creating and designing a new product, program, presentation, or differentiated trade.
So how do we rejuvenate passion, uncover student strengths, integrate synthesis, and most important, create a service curriculum that reaches out to the community and touching our students’ minds and hearts in this time of great brain growth? We begin by asking students the questions that drive them to self-reflect while listening to their own passions, strengths and interests. As educators and parents, we have the luxury of integrating these questions inside everyday classes and home environments. We then begin to integrate experiential work-study programs into the senior year of high school.

What if?

If I had all day to spend on this one project or activity, what would that be?
What activity or skill has always intrigued me and I’ve always wanted to know more?
If I could choose three of my classes for next year on any topic, what would they be and why?
If money did not matter, and I could design my own career, what would that look like?
What are two things I am really good at?
If I could design the perfect school day what would that be?

Brent Cameron, educator and author of “Self Design” a methodology and practice based on the belief that children and adolescents are natural learners and that the brain is designed for relationship, innovation and creativity, spearheaded the Individualized Learning Plan initiative, merging the philosophy of Self Design into many districts from urban schools. He describes it this way, “It is a journey back to our true identity, allowing the rediscovery of self, the rediscovery of our essential nature.”
What if we begin to assess strengths, passions and interests freshman or sophomore year using surveys, rating scales and anecdotal notes throughout the high school years? What if we incorporate and track these assessments a couple of times a year just as we give and gather End Of Course Assessments and AP tests; recording these rating scales and surveys noting any and all student changes each semester. What if we began to group students according to their interests and passions meeting three times a year in student led collaborations where second semester work study programs and student portfolios begin to develop? These programs are different than internships; they will cultivate to serve the needs of the community and the students; as the preparation of a “service portfolio” begins to take form early in high school.
What if the work study programs began planning and calling upon the community, bringing in guest speakers from civic organizations, businesses, and schools of trade, churches, and various institutes? What would we learn and apply from listening to the abbreviated seminars with time set aside for questions and discussion two days a week? What if students would learn to deeply research their topics of interest (integrating common core ELA, Science and Math standards) embedding the history of the organizations and businesses, its needs, and ways to propagate outcomes and production as part of their portfolio? This could be some of the most meaningful learning in these adolescent years as the students might be driven by a personal sense of autonomy purpose and mastery?
What if students took their ideas, studies and questions into the various field experiences eight to ten hours a week during the school day collaborating with these organizations in designing novel ways of engagement, service and purpose?
What if each student created a portfolio of their studies, experience, with three actionable ways to improve and build upon their individual field experiences? These portfolios would be shared and reviewed by school boards, parents, the upcoming high school classes, the actual businesses and organizations where the student was mentored and focused his/her studies. What if students acquired not only hours of experience, but college or trade school credit, scholarships , and recognition for not only their project outcomes, but for the effort, oral and written presentation and its applicability to serve another?

If we are truly to prepare our students to live outside the walls of schools, this senior year gap needs to be addressed in public schools. If the purpose of an assessment is to inform instruction and to gradually give the responsibility of design and evaluation back to the students, this work study semester is an innovative and assured way to meet the needs of the students and community in this exciting time of developing great brain growth.
Maybe we begin with a small group of students in a pilot program? Maybe we begin to simply build on student interests and passions with surveys and discussions; listening deeply to the needs and desires of those students who have struggled with the limitations of traditional education and its emphasis on English Language Arts and Math? Below is a list of community topics and ideas for business collaboration and specializations that call for a preparedness of “synthesizing ideas,” generating a compassionate presence of service while strengthening the passions and interests and the innate genius of every student.

Service Organizations/ Topics for Work Study Programs/ Portfolio with Community

1. Arts, Culture and Humanities
2. Humanities and Historical Societies
3. Libraries
4. Research Institutes
5. Vocational, and Technical,
6. Environment and Animals
7. Animal Protection, Welfare and Services
8. Beautification and Horticulture
9. Conservation and Environmental Education
10. Health Care Facilities and Programs
11. Addiction and Substance Abuse Study
12. Health Care Facilities and Programs
13. Agriculture, Food and Nutrition
14. Health Care Facilities and Programs

Topics and questions for educators as we look to the synthesis of subjects and standards in our secondary classes
1. Environment- how do we affect or treat and stay in sync with our natural resources, promoting growth and compassion towards our organic world we inhabit, increasing economic growth and commerce?
2. Mathematical Concepts- mathematical operations / problem solving applied to professions of science, engineering and finance, formulating problems while creating solutions inside a global market?
3. Technical, Academic and Creative Writing and Entrepreneurship – how and where do these skills positively impact non-profit organizations and community businesses?
4. Technology and Media- How do we prepare our students for rapid onset of this growth?
5. Medicine- Specializations, Nurturance, Holistic Health Sciences- are we preparing students for to ask the “questions” concerning the implications for preventative health and the swift growth of the sciences that contribute to prevention, lifestyle and the deep connection of body , mind, spirit?
6. Relationships/ Self-Awareness- How do create positive relationships? How do we use perspective and empathy in our lives to arrive at deeper levels of understanding about other individuals and ourselves?

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

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