And, the coolest part of it all was that it was so diverse. There were so many different people from all over the community that I had never met before.
Iowa BIG Learner
My story is familiar to the eyes of learner-centered educators. I was relatively happy attending my traditional school. Then, I was involuntarily exposed to an unfamiliar (it was learner-centered) educational opportunity. I started out nervous and unconfident. Now, I’m independent and taking strong ownership of my education. My story is familiar to the eyes of learner-centered educators, but they are not my audience. My audience is any type of student who is on the fence about trying something new for their education—or is, in general, scared of a new experience.
Let me go back to the beginning. Before I got to high school, I was moving in and out of new schools every few years. Eventually, between 7th and 10th grade, I finally hit a four-year stretch where nothing changed. I had the opportunity to build a great community of friends and mentors. I was happy.
Throughout those four years, I met so many people, peers and teachers alike. Being in one place for a sustained period of time allowed me to get the hang of traditional schooling. This was a good foundation for me before I went into this new learner-centered environment, as I got to really experience how traditional schools work.
I thought about the possibilities that would be available to me if I gave [Iowa BIG] a try, but I quickly retreated into my comfort zone and told myself I wanted to stay where I was.
Iowa BIG Learner
However, my 4-year stint was all coming to an end. And, of all people, my mom was the one putting an end to it. During my sophomore year, she began telling me about this place called Iowa BIG. She sent me a link to an Iowa BIG video and said, “I want you to watch this and tell me what you think. I think you should try this next year .” After I watched it, I thought about the possibilities that would be available to me if I gave it a try, but I quickly retreated into my comfort zone and told myself I wanted to stay where I was. Once I explained to my mom how I felt, she reemphasized she just wanted me to try it. All I kept thinking was how can I be educated through projects—Iowa BIG’s model?
While I was initially wary, I eventually decided if my mom thought this was going to be best for me in the long term, why not consider it? I thought about it for a couple of weeks—weighing the pros and cons of this big decision. Honestly, I really didn’t know what the best option would be.
My mom persisted. She kept going on and on about how great of an opportunity Iowa BIG would be. And, guess what? Her nagging worked. I started getting curious about it. She would say, “Look up the website and research what they are about.” And, I did. She would say, “Jack, you will not regret this. I promise I wouldn’t tell you about this if I didn’t think it was going to be good for you.” I thought, “Maybe she’s right. Why would she sabotage me? She must be doing what is right for me.” I eventually took it upon myself to look at what this crazy program was all about. I did a little research and became very intrigued. I remember thinking, “Maybe this isn’t as bad as I thought it was.”
However, my mom decided my initiative wasn’t enough. While I was still mulling things over, enjoying my school life, my mom told me, “Jack, I signed you up, and you have to go on a field trip to visit the place. Just give it a chance.” Even though I was growing curious, I was upset. It was moving too fast. I hardly knew anybody who attended Iowa BIG. I was nervous about what the future would bring and not having the time to weigh all of the options. Luckily, my girlfriend decided she wanted to see what Iowa BIG was about and went with me.
If there are any students out there reading this, debating whether or not to partake in a non-traditional school, I honestly say go for it. It is the best decision I (or my mom) ever made.
Iowa BIG Learner
The field trip to Iowa BIG was amazing. We collaborated with other students on potential projects that business people wanted us to work on. We created new ideas for projects in small groups that we thought would be important. And, the coolest part of it all was that it was so diverse. There were so many different people from all over the community that I had never met before. My girlfriend was as amazed and excited as I was. The whole day I just kept thinking about my mom. She said this would be a great opportunity for me, and she was right. I could easily see myself at Iowa BIG doing great things.
After the field trip, even though I was excited, I told my mom I would think about it. I wasn’t ready to say yes. I couldn’t look over the fact I would be leaving my friends behind. How could I do that? Ultimately, that was the only argument that mattered to me. I didn’t think about Iowa BIG much after the field trip. I almost completely forgot about it.
About three weeks later, class registration for my junior year rolled around. I had to register for classes for my current school and Iowa BIG just in case I changed my mind and decided to go. I was scared to take that leap of faith.
Summer rolled around, and I could finally relax. Towards the end of summer, I had totally forgotten about the whole situation and wasn’t even picturing myself going to a different school. My mom had different plans.
One month before school was going to start, my mom told me I was going to do Iowa BIG whether I liked it or not. I was devastated. I wasn’t going to see my friends this coming year. It was hard imagining what it was going to be like without them.
Eventually, school started, and I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I had to switch traditional schools because my old traditional school didn’t offer the opportunity of Iowa BIG. I would be spending half my day at my new traditional school and the other half at Iowa BIG. Luckily, I ended up adjusting very well after that first day. My transition from traditional school to non-traditional school was very smooth.
Throughout my first year at Iowa BIG, I have grown as a leader and a learner. My work ethic has soared, and I have learned so many different skills I never knew I could learn in school. This year has been an incredible one. Through the projects, I am able to practice setting up meetings and talking to business professionals in the right tone. I can easily take leadership of a meeting now. I am adapting to new situations because of what and how I’ve learned. I completely changed my mindset from being closed to completely open.
If there are any students out there reading this and debating whether or not to partake in a non-traditional school, I honestly say go for it. It is the best decision I (or my mom) ever made. I go home after BIG and tell my mom all about my day and all of the great opportunities that are coming before me. And, all she says is “I told you so.” I know, mom, I know.