To make a difference, break the rules.
Students at Beacon High School in Oakland, like their younger peers at Beacon Day School, have a school year that never ends and a 10-hour school day. The major difference in the schedule is that high school students are expected to attend school for only 215 days. Other than that the schedule is identical: the school is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; teachers work flexible schedules for 210 days; two teachers are on leave every six weeks, their places taken by "flexes."
: Beacon High School's aim, according to codirector Thelma Farley: "We're trying to develop an effective, motivated person -- a lifelong learner." While all students are required to cover such basic subjects as English, math, history and science, not all have to cover them in the same way. One student may need to take a writing workshop; another can prove competence in writing and spend extra time working on calculus, chemistry, or world history.
"You do it until you get it right," says Farley. "This system gives you the time you need, but it doesn't hold you back."
"Rules get made up by somebody for some reason, but they can always be changed," says cofounder Leslie Medine. "You can always find someone somewhere in the system who is willing to be different."
Beacon High School is just getting off the ground. Beacon Day was founded in 1982; the high school in 1991. The high school has an enrollment of 65 students and expects to peak at an enrollment of 250.
Medine and Farley go to great lengths to emphasize that the developmental perspective that undergirds the day school applies to the high school as well. They stress that although adolescents, like young children, grow and change in predictable ways, patterns of individual development vary. A developmental high school, they believe, is needed to make learning relevant to the unique perspectives of adolescent learners, each of them experiencing a period of intense physical, emotional and intellectual change.
At Beacon High, classes are two hours long and structured variously, emphasizing hands-on activities, group discussions, films, breaking up time and giving students a break to relax. "A visitor might think some of these kids are hanging out," says Medine, "but this is how adolescents learn."
The school program emphasizes four major components:
This school's program predates the advice of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning: "Reinvent schools around learning, not time."
For additional information:
Beacon Day School
2101 Livingston Street
Oakland, CA 94606