Why I Became an Advocate for Learner-Centered Transformation

Learner Voices   11 May 2017
By Lewis Cha


All of a sudden…I was the leader of my own life.

Lewis Cha
Learner, Lindsay High School

Albert Einstein once said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” In my opinion, my job as a learner is to create memories rather than forget everything school has taught me.

Along my academic journey, I experienced a transition from a traditional system to a learner-based system. My district calls it a “Performance Based System,” or PBS for short. During this transition, I’ve started to notice more learners who’ve taken their learning to the edge. They’ve been more motivated to get on top of their responsibilities as a whole. The success of our PBS has led these learners to create the memories they’ll keep after they graduate from high school.

The key to this PBS environment is how every learner can be their unique self. Something that differentiates me from many of my peers, for example, is the fact that I wasn’t born in Central Valley, California (where Lindsay USD is located). I was originally born on the coast of Long Beach, CA. When going to elementary school in Long Beach, things were run traditionally—students weren’t really learning and were swept along to the next grade regardless of whether or not they knew the material.

I remember being frustrated that I struggled in math, but I would still move on to the next grade even though I didn’t completely understand how to multiply by 9s or perform long division. This made me feel like I had no control over my learning. I was a bird trapped inside a cage, unable to spread my wings and fly.


All I knew was that the cage that held me was suddenly unlocked.

Lewis Cha
Learner, Lindsay High School

Throughout my K-4 education in Long Beach, I was flustered by how restricted my learning experience was. Growing up around an Asian culture where I was taught the importance of education and persistence, I felt as if my values weren’t being adhered to. Even though I struggled in math, I couldn’t get the help I desperately needed. Instead, I was swept under the rug and not paid attention to. I needed to unlock the cage that was holding me back.

It wasn’t until I moved to Lindsay, California that the possibility of being set free became more than a hope. In the beginning, this new school still felt very traditional. It felt like I never left Long Beach. Almost nothing changed, except for the people who went to the school.

But, during the first couple years at Lindsay Unified, I began to notice slight changes. I noticed that if I finished a subject (Measurement Topic), I could instantly move on to the next topic. Along with the changes in our ability to make progress, I also began seeing a lot of competition when it came to striving towards the best grade possible. Being the little kid I was, I didn’t really understand what was going on. All I knew was that the cage that held me was suddenly unlocked. I was able to flutter around, and eventually, as the strength of my wings grew, I was able to soar high into the educational sky.

With this newfound freedom, I graduated from the K-8 little leagues and found myself in the majors (high school) where there was even more space for me to explore. When I first stepped foot on my high school campus, I felt like a baby sparrow who just crawled out of the nest and was experiencing the big world around me for the first time. Everything was foreign to me.


I began learning about the importance of being a leader.

Lewis Cha
Learner, Lindsay High School

All of a sudden there was no “line leader.” I was the leader of my own life, and I could explore my interests, so I started doing work in Music Tech and Multimedia Design. I could choose my path and move at my pace. Finally, I could soar.

Then, I thought it might have really just been a dream, as I was called into the administrative office towards the end of my freshmen year. “Oh no, did I do something wrong? Was it because I got a 2.5 (D+) on my project?” The usual thoughts that run through a learner’s mind when called into the office.

As it turned out, I was called in because the district wanted me to become a member of Team Empowered—a team devoted to expressing to visitors why Lindsay is different from traditional high schools. I let out a sigh of relief, nervously laughed, and quickly agreed to join. So, as my sophomore year began, I began learning about the importance of being a leader, as well as the importance of cooperation and public speaking.

As a Team Empowered member, I was introduced to Barry Sommer, the Director of Advancement at Lindsay, who was part of the team that created the PBS. By working with Barry, I had connections to a wide variety of different staff from many different Lindsay schools. For example, I met Jeanette Roach, a librarian from Lincoln Elementary with background in graphic design (one of my key passions). Little did I know at the time but being connected to Mr. Sommer would result in a great opportunity down the line.


How can we implement education in the modern world?

Lewis Cha

Within the early months of my sophomore year, I led my first tour for visiting teachers, grant holders, and Lindsay staff around Lindsay High School explaining what education means to me and how PBS has shaped my beliefs. Since then, I’ve led 15 Team Empowered tours, and every time I do one, my voice and passion for education strengthens.

By developing this strength, an unexpected opportunity arose during my junior year. I was invited to a convening in Washington, DC, called SparkHouse, where learners like myself would be speaking about transforming the nation’s education system into one centered around the learner.

So, with two other learners and Barry Sommer, we flew out for three days to explore the possibilities. At the convening, we had the opportunity to meet learners and educators from all over the country. During two day-long sessions, we, the young learners, discussed how we could take the lead in transforming our education system to better suit all learners.

This experience raised my interest in the education world to a new peak. Questions started running through my head. Why has technology advanced so far, but our system of education has remained the same? How come we still practice the same knowledge from the 1920’s, when we were developing children to work in factories? How can we implement education in the modern world?

Through this event, it became clear to me that the traditional educational system had failed to move forward in a long time. At SparkHouse, Lindsay learners got to see the passion that everyone in unique learner-centered environments shared. The burning passion to transform education for all learners, as well as the relationship of teachers with their students and even with their students’ parents.

As the event concluded, all the learners exchanged phone numbers, created the greatest “GroupMe” Chat in history, and said our salutations. Six months have gone by since SparkHouse, and I still feel the passion and excitement we all shared during our time together. After my graduation at Lindsay, I’ll never forget the many friends I’ve made throughout my journey. I plan on sharing this story with everyone I meet. I’ll always be a voice in the work to transform the education system.

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