The Met (Metropolitan Regional Career And Technical Center)
Dr. Dennis Littky
Co-Director and Co-Founder
We must not lose our humanity and the real personalization that is necessary to help our students become our next leaders.
FACTS & FIGURES
Ages of learners served
Special education services
ESL/Bilingual education services
BACK IN 1995, TWO TRANSFORMATIVE THINKERS AND EDUCATORS CAME TOGETHER because they knew it was time for a change—a change in how the world saw learning, kids, and education. They had a vision to redesign education in a way that “put students directly at the center of their own learning.” Fortuitously, one small state—Rhode Island—was getting ready to take a risk with its own education system. Thus, the first Big Picture Learning school—the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (“The Met”) in Providence, RI—was born.
After moving locations a few times in the 90’s, The Met built its permanent home in Providence’s poorest neighborhood, the South Side. Co-founders, Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor, wanted the community to know this effort was about so much more than “school.”
They wanted to demonstrate how the learning experience could be completely transformed for young people who are too often underserved and under-resourced: learners of color growing up in the poorest parts of our urban centers. They wanted to prove to the community that you don’t have to build fences, install metal detectors, and make the learning environment feel like a prison just to keep learners safe.
Utilizing research-backed practices in community development, and more specifically, in how to make sure young people feel part of a culture, this socially embedded environment sought to cultivate an “everyone knows everyone” climate. And, it all started with putting learners at the center.
When the needs of learners are acknowledged and acted upon, trust follows. Every learner who attends The Met is placed with a family of learners—an advisory of peers led by one adult Advisor—that will serve as nucleus of their learning experience for the next four years.
Within the Advisory, learners are challenged to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, develop a strong sense of learner agency, and take advantage of the collaborative atmosphere to improve upon projects and proposals they’re pursuing.
This collaboration and exploration leads to the discovery of new interests and passions. And, once an interest is identified, the cold calls begin. That’s right, cold calls. Through The Met’s open-walled Learning Through Internships (LTI) program, each learner participates in eight internships over the course of four semesters. And, in true Met style, the learners own the process from start to finish.
This includes reaching out to employers throughout the community to a) see if the employer is open to having an intern and b) enroll that employer in taking them on by expressing why they would be a great fit.
From the LTI’s come a host of knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Learners develop a knack for communicating cross-generationally with their mentors and seeing themselves as contributing members of a professional team. They improve their research, writing, and public speaking skills through the delivery of presentations to their peers and the broader public.
They develop an intimate understanding of the problems their community is facing and see themselves as leaders in coming up with viable solutions to move the community forward. All of this is conducted in a manner that is personalized, relevant, and contextualized to their own lives.
Given the learner-centered nature of The Met’s design, it probably comes as no surprise that they rely heavily on competency-based structures to fuel their assessment practices. As a public school, the educators must use their creativity to ensure what’s being learned also aligns with the wants of the state.
They don’t let the standards limit the topics learners explore. Rather, during the semester, advisors work to identify the unique learnings occurring and back-map them to the standards. This reversal allows learning to happen organically with maximum engagement. And, most importantly, the state takes no issue with this approach.
Overall, The Met expresses some of the most powerful examples of what learner-centered education can provide every learner in the United States if we are simply willing to work for it. Since The Met opened in 1996, they have used their model to open nearly 150 learning environments around the world—all proudly a part of the Big Picture Learning network.
The network has a high-level frame that allows each individual learning environment to implement practices based on the needs of their learners and community. This is what learner-centered education is all about—answering to the needs of the individual and their community, so every learner can take advantage of the unique possibilities in front of them.
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