12 Inspiring Stories from a Dynamic Year in Learner-Centered Education

Voices from the Field | Learner Voices | Q&A   11 January 2018

OVER THE COURSE OF 2017, Education Reimagined published 22 issues of Pioneering thanks to the support and participation of learner-centered leaders from across the country. As a way to close the books on 2017 and launch ourselves into the new year, we want to use our first issue of 2018 to highlight 12 inspiring stories we had the pleasure of amplifying throughout 2017.

These 12 selections are not just based on popularity from the perspective of our readers or our editorial staff. Rather, they are our attempt to represent the learner-centered movement as a whole. Pioneering has always been a publication striving to showcase the great diversity of this movement. Below, you’ll find voices of all ages, environment types (public, private, charter, and alternative), leadership levels, and geographic locations. This is only a snippet of who is involved in this transformational work, and we can’t wait to showcase even more in the new year.


Unlocking the Door to My Future by Jemar Lee

From getting escorted out of school by police officers to taking the stage at national education conferences, Jemar Lee has a learner-centered story too powerful to ignore. Thanks to Jemar’s personal drive to find an educational model that fit his needs, he discovered Iowa BIG, which led to opportunities that he (and we) believe should be available to every learner in the United States. Jemar’s story is unique, as is every learner’s, but his experience within a system that didn’t meet his needs can be found in communities from coast to coast. 


How Five Educators Decided to Act on Their Beliefs and Transform Their Environment by Danae Secunde

Grassroots-driven and top-enabled. Time and time again, we have seen these two characteristics come up in stories of education transformation. We have seen a single individual or small group (be it young learners, parents, educators, or active community members) create massive change by following their dreams of what education could be. In March, we had the opportunity to amplify such a story from West Newfield, Maine where five educators decided they were going to lead the way in transforming learning in their community. 


Why I Expect to Be Great by Keyonna Griffin

When our Senior Writer, Paul Haluszczak, hopped on the phone with learners from McComb School District in Mississippi, everything was business as usual. The learners were pitching great ideas about potential articles in an energizing conversation. But, Paul began to notice something not so familiar—these learners were speaking of early educational experiences as if they were happening today. To his amazement, he discovered these learners were in fact only 10 years old. Keyonna’s story is one of many that will demonstrate the difference learner-centered education makes for learners of all ages.


How This Alternative Learning Environment is Weaving Social-Emotional Skills into Their Learner-Centered Practice by Monique Uzelac and Sarah Giddings

The term “alternative” being applied to a school has often caused people to ignore or overlook the learner-centered ideas blooming in environments serving our most discouraged and disadvantaged youth. Fortunately, as 2017 was seemingly a coming out party for the long-awaited recognition of social-emotional learning, alternative environments are beginning to garner more of the spotlight—deservedly so. There is no better example than the inspiring work of WAVE in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Discover how they have made social-emotional learning a foundation in every aspect of their learners’ experiences.


A Conversation with Henry County Schools’ Karen Perry

Transforming a single learning environment is a big challenge. Transforming an entire district that serves over 42,000 learners is seemingly impossible. That is, of course, if you don’t have the proper support. At Henry County Schools just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Karen Perry is leading the charge in garnering the support necessary to move the district in unison. As the Special Projects Coordinator, she gave insight on how the district operated before embarking on their transformational journey, how the district distinguishes learner-centered education, how each environment within the district maintains a unique identity, and much more.



A Conversation with Aveson Charter Schools’ Kate Bean

As learning environments embark on their learner-centered journeys, it is imperative for them to find leaders who have been at this work for many years—hopefully helping them to minimize or, even, avoid future trials and tribulations. Kate Bean is one of those leaders. As the Executive Director and founder of Aveson Charter Schools, Kate has been in the game of learner-centered transformation for 11 years. When we spoke with her, she shared why she was inspired to open Aveson in 2007, what her experience as a financial planner and life coach taught her about education, and how Aveson has cultivated an alumni network that is possibly more involved than that of many universities.

We Have the Power to Transform Education by Grant Lichtman

Grant Lichtman is known for many things within the education community, but in 2017, he wanted you to know him for one message—you don’t need permission to transform education in your community. In education, we often confuse tradition with law. And, when we look at the fine print, we realize it isn’t so fine after all. When we discover how much freedom is truly available to us in deciding how we educate our children, the doors of opportunity fly open. In Grant’s article for Pioneering, he quickly addresses the “why” and “what” of transformation and uses the rest of his words to show “how” we can all do it in our own way.


A Conversation with One Stone Leaders

It’s always a privilege when we find the golden hour in a learning environment’s schedule that allows multiple leaders to join our conversations. Such was the case with the quartet of voices we heard from at One Stone in Boise, Idaho. From the Co-Founder and first official program hire to the Community Engagement Director and School Director, our readers got a chance to see a learner-centered environment from a host of perspectives. Explore the One Stone story from their original identity as a community service non-profit to officially becoming an education environment. Their favorite learner stories are our favorite part.


Lucky Me: The Unexpected Opportunity that Put My Town on the Map by Colby Mills

We had the pleasure of highlighting many stories from learners at Pike Road Schools in Alabama this past year. Pike Road serves as an exciting story of a brand new environment experiencing growing pains as a community. Colby’s experience transitioning from a school-centered environment to a learner-centered one, and the opportunities he found along the way, captures so many elements of the Pike Road Schools journey. It’s a must read.

A Conversation with Future School of Fort Smith’s Trish Flanagan

As Future School of Fort Smith’s Superintendent, Trish found herself in Arkansas on her path to building a more equitable world. With her myriad domestic and international experiences, Trish became an expert in bringing communities together, which came in handy when enrolling the Fort Smith community in supporting the opening of the only charter school within a 100 mile radius. From there, community involvement has been a staple of Fort Smith’s evolution.

Capitalizing on the Natural Structures of Freedom by Jenny Finn

With learner agency as a key element in learner-centered implementation, one of the biggest questions is how can we marry freedom with structure. Jenny Finn, Co-Founder of Springhouse Community School in Floyd, Virginia addresses this question in a profound way. And, to best describe why you should read her piece, we’ll let her words do the talking—”just as a structure that is too tight does not bring forth vitality and authenticity, a learning structure that is too expansive leaves learners parameter-less and not knowing where their edges are, leading to stress, overwhelm, and failure that is not transformative.”


A Conversation with High School for the Recording Arts’ Tony Simmons and Joey Cienian

Possibly the most unique learning environment we profiled this year, High School for the Recording Arts is another example of the revolutionary transformation taking place at many traditionally “alternative” environments across the country. Speaking with Tony and Joey captured the true essence of the learner-centered movement. Tony said it best when asked how learner involvement in local politics has helped expose their work—”I want to emphasize, too, that it’s not me going and talking about the difference we are making. It’s our students. Having our learners be highly visible has really made the best case.”

To explore all of our 2017 issues of Pioneering, head over to our archive of past issues. Thank you to all of the incredible pioneers who shared their stories with us in 2017. We can’t wait to hear from more of you in the year ahead!

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