Lucky Me: The Unexpected Opportunity that Put My Town on the Map
Learner Voices 09 November 2017
By Colby Mills
Without learning and passion, what do we have, really?
Community 10 Learner, Pike Road Schools
Complacency is the first word that comes to mind when I think about my educational experience before moving to Pike Road Schools (PRS). As I attended rigorously academic magnet schools in Montgomery, I recall sitting at a desk for hours and receiving monotonous instructions to jot down and memorize “important” details, which I would certainly forget the next week. “How will I use this in the real world?” was my recurring question school day after school day. But, a more essential question—“Will this be on the test?”—kept me engaged just enough to cram for the tests and forget the information soon after.
As an overtly curious child, I silently questioned my teachers’ undying love for the dreaded worksheet. I understood from an early age that I learned more efficiently with hands-on activities, but I was never presented with real opportunities to do so in school. This created a significant issue in my ability to show my learning—I could understand material in great detail and still not test well on it.
Fortunately, in the last year, I transitioned to a school focused primarily on project-based learning (PBL) and student involvement.
Throughout my childhood, as I grew, so did my hometown, Pike Road, Alabama. I watched the town library transition from a small trailer on the corner to a new building closer to the city and my once small church grow rapidly year after year. Pike Road was clearly becoming a place to be. While our community blossomed, citizens came together to discuss the rebirth of a significant facet our town hadn’t had since the 70’s: a school. After a few years of construction, orientations, and announcements, the new school was launched. My family and I were ecstatic to hear the news.
Pike Road Schools (PRS) came as a great beacon of hope for my family, the community, and me. Project-based learning was a foreign concept to me, but I felt endlessly fortunate that I would have the opportunity to explore it.
I was among the group of learners lucky enough to transition to PRS from day one. The first day of school was boisterous. There was a cluttered mass of hundreds of learners, each attempting to find their place in the classes’ arrangements, figure out the school’s innovative agenda, and identify comfort amongst unfamiliar sets of eyes. It was a box of “firsts” spilled all at once. A disorganized assortment of discovering how to learn in this new environment, seeking out anyone resembling an adult who could direct you to the “Collaborative Learning Center,” and frantically searching for someone to sit with at lunch.
I was full of anxiety, but I managed to take home two things that day: a conviction that this school and its leaders truly understood what learning was, and a pink slip of paper for my parents to fill out. I held onto the former and returned the latter (signed) to my homeroom Lead Learner the next day.
Although it took months of transition and shifting around…I felt more motivated, and less stressed, than ever before.
Community 10 Learner, Pike Road Schools
Although I was excited for what tomorrow would bring, making the transition from my previous eight years of traditional schooling to this learner-centered environment was more challenging than I had predicted. News of flexible deadlines, student voice, and collaborative learning should have excited me. But, instead, I felt inexperienced and uncomfortable. My conventional mindset was being yanked away from me. In exchange, I was being presented with a system in which I was expected to be the leader of my own learning. As I began to accept the facts of what was (and wasn’t) required of me, though, I thrived.
As I shifted my learning style, I also needed to shift my language to follow our new progressive and familial vocabulary; classes were named “families,” grade levels were called “communities,” teachers were, fittingly, “Lead Learners” (they learn just as we do), and students became “Learners.”
Although it took months of transition and shifting around, which was chaotic for everyone, PRS eventually began running smoothly and fulfilled many of the goals it originally set. Learning was inspiring all ages: Learners, Lead Learners, and PRS Leadership. I felt more motivated, and less stressed, than ever before.
As a newborn school, talk of students’ wants and ideas for the school’s immediate future was commonplace. But, a problem stemmed from this: these ideas and hopes had no ordered way of reaching the administration, thus festering and transforming into complaints which hovered over learners’ heads. As a proponent of mental health and positivity, the abundant complaints dulled my hopeful spirit, leading me to search for a solution.
It wasn’t long before I arrived at an idea. For context, I was the president of my previous Student Government Association (SGA) and was passionate about legislative and political functions at the time. I saw it as an organized way for students to share their concerns and propose solutions; our opportunity to form this miniature government was essential to having students’ voices heard. I knew we could reach the administration and, even more easily, our teachers through a simple proposal process, all while being taught order and democracy.
As we created a committee to propose and build this SGA, we opted to formulate a new take on student-led governing. This led to mine and the committee’s continued efforts to create a perfect and unique representation of law in PRS. We wrote an innovative dictionary for our process and created titles and positions that appeared advantageous and essential. I wrote a dense jungle of a constitution, heavily revised by the committee and our advisor, Ms. Austin, that became the standing reference for the association. Thus, the PRS SGA was born.
Planning something as colossal and permanent as a student-government organization…made me realize a talent and passion I’d never known before: leadership.
Community 10 Learner, Pike Road Schools
In the beginning, we worked tirelessly and intentionally. Murmurs of the upcoming officer and representative elections were catalyzed by my tour (there is no better way to describe it) of the school, making my way to every class from Community Four to Community Eight to find students eager to join their family (class), community (grade), or even school-wide races.
During this process I also kickstarted my small poster/social-media campaign for President. As we neared our planned speech/debate ceremony, the excited murmurs blossomed into enthused shouts and words of encouragement. Our ornately and patriotically decorated campaign event took place in our gymnasium on a morning of nerves and excitement. Anticipatory shivers tickled every candidate as voting opened and closed within the matter of a school day. The results were announced at the end of that day, and I was (spoiler alert) the new president.
Planning something as colossal and permanent as a student-government organization was a new trek that, although it took my anxiety to new and exciting (if you will) levels, came somewhat naturally and effortlessly to me. It made me realize a talent and passion I’d never known before: leadership. My previous experiences in traditional schools had only allowed me to experience leadership in constricted, somewhat forced, environments.
After leading too many clubs and committees to count and actually having my and my peers’ ideas listened to and implemented by an incredibly understanding administration and superintendent at PRS, I’m convinced it is imperative that student voice is heard. Not long ago, I had a friend tell me a story about her teacher informing the class that their classroom was “not a democracy.” When the classroom is led by an ironhanded teacher and students have no say, learning and passions are inhibited. And without learning and passion, what do we have, really?
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