The first issue of The Bridge came out on September 24th 2017 and began:
“Welcome to The Bridge! If you are wondering to yourself, “what is The Bridge?”
The Bridge is the newsletter of City of Bridges High School. As this high school gets off the ground, The Bridge is a way to share our progress, share our passions and share information about groups and people who exemplify our views about schooling, society and Western Pennsylvania. We hope you will read The Bridge, share the Bridge and share City of Bridges High School.”
And now, two years later, City of Bridges is officially off the ground and our adventure is underway. This issue will share some of what we have been doing in our first weeks and some thoughts on education and the work of re-envisioning what school should be.
What We Have Been Up to…..
The school year began with students and adults building our community and getting to know each other, our neighborhood, and our city. We spent time visiting local organizations, including WESA (our local public radio station), City Theater, The South Side Chamber of Commerce, and the South Side Branch of the Carnegie Library system. We traveled to Frick Park and journeyed around the city by bus and on foot.
We delved into our first block of classes: a humanities block on Utopia in Literature and History, where we explored different ideas of a better society and now are creating our own models (although some are really dystopias…), a science block on Inquiry and Analysis, setting the stage for the scientific method and scientific questioning, and a civics block on the political systems of Pittsburgh to support our work in the community. We have also begun our math classes, human centered design projects, and movement (including some thrilling kickball games). We have spent time with Dr. Adam Lobel identifying learning styles, with Michelle King de-mechanizing our thinking, and with Fitzhugh Shaw learning about the food systems of the city. We participated in the Youth Climate Strike at the City County Building, we designed new games, we set up our community norms, we worked to develop rhythms to our days, we listened to some records, and we laughed a lot.
We have packed countless experiences and learning into these first weeks of school and we have some amazing experiences on the horizon. Our first expedition week is coming up, we will focus on learning more about the food systems of the region by spending time at local farms, food justice organizations, retailers and restaurants. Then our second block will begin with blocks on Botany, contemporary US history, Game Design, Physics and Engineering, and Community Internships. The list of exciting learning experiences keeps growing.
…And Why it Matters
High School needs to be able to prepare young people for life, not to jump through the hoops of school, but to use school experiences to build the knowledge, skills, and understanding necessary to chart their paths in life.
One of our visits to a community resource this week illustrates the importance of providing our students opportunities to experience paths that might become futures. We were welcomed to City Theater, a neighbor and partner here in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh. They graciously shared their processes, their facility, and their time with us. As they discussed the playwriting program, playwriting became a possible future, when we visited the costume design and fabrication shop, that too became a possible future, when we visited the scenery design shop with both carpentry and metal fabrication, that also became a possible future. I don’t know that any City of Bridges students will go on to have any of these careers, but now these doors exist. By the time our students graduate they will have the academic skills and knowledge and the 21st century skills necessary to open that door if they so choose.
One vision for high school is a long hallway with a door at the far end. As students journey along that singular path, they are given pieces of information, some relevant to their future, but much of it only relevant to measurement and evaluation. Hopefully those student’s buckets will be full enough by the time that they reach that door that they are able to pass through it and step out into the world.
Our vision for high school is not a long hall way with a single door, but a flexible space that allows young people to discover new doors, open doors before the end of high school to see what is beyond, and to construct their own doors to open. They still need to learn the knowledge and skills they will need for what lies beyond those doors, but they will do so in service of their future, not in service of political goals or standardized tests.
High School can be different and City of Bridges is striving to prove that here in Pittsburgh. We are only a month old, but the excitement and energy in what these young people are doing is building and it is inspiring.