In the past, I struggled with my grades, and teachers thought it was because I didn’t try. I just couldn’t learn the way they expected me to. Here at Big Picture, my teachers care about me and my success.
TEN YEARS AGO, in rural LaFayette, New York, “15 excited, over-aged, under-credited, at-risk high school freshmen” gathered in a small wing of a local elementary school. They were “excited” because they knew they were not entering a learning space that had continuously failed them year after year. They were “over-aged” according to the arbitrary standards set by the traditional system. And, they were “under-credited and at-risk” due to a slew of unique circumstances and a lacking support structure. Little did these learners (and their community) know the coming years would result in individual and community transformation of unprecedented proportions.
All of the barriers listed above are what LaFayette Big Picture School was designed for—meeting every learner where they are and unleashing the unique possibilities within each one.
LaFayette, New York borders the sovereign Onondaga Nation. With limited opportunities to engage with each other, misunderstandings of culture and ways of life were often felt on both sides. When Lafayette Big Picture opened its doors, learners from both communities gathered in a single, intimate space where a socially embedded culture was front and center, so everyone could be known for the unique gifts they were bringing to the community. In doing so, learners found equal value in themselves and their peers. Inside, stereotypes were being broken down on a daily basis. Outside, similar transformations began to occur as the learners engaged in open-walled experiences. By working hand-in-hand with community partners, these “troubled” youth showcased their diverse skillsets and, just as importantly, brought understanding to the unique cultures they represented.
Fast forward to today, and LaFayette Big Picture’s competency-based, learner-driven approach attracts youth from every corner of the county, regardless of labels. Even learners (and their parents) who experience unbridled success in the traditional system look over at LaFayette Big Picture School with noticeable curiosity. After hearing about the personalized, relevant, and contextualized learning experiences designed with the learners’ interests and passions at the center, they wanted in on the action.
With this, the “alternative” status of LaFayette Big Picture School has taken on a whole new meaning. Rather than standing as a place for “those kids,” it is now known as an environment meant for any child who desires a learning experience where they are agents of their learning. What was originally a last resort for a handful of struggling youth has evolved into a first choice high school for learners and parents from all walks of life.