There’s an uncomfortable context embedded in the statement, “School isn’t for everyone.” Rather than it being a rallying cry to transform a system that doesn’t serve every single child, it becomes an endorsement for segregating young people into gifted programs, alternative schools, and other learning environments that have a high- or low-achiever designation.
What if a system existed in which these labels of achievement melted away and everyone was seen as a unique, curious, capable, and wondrous learner? At Tri-County Early College High School, that question has driven their transformation for the last three years. Although they predominantly serve young learners who have failed to find success in the conventional education system, their learner-centered model has also attracted high-achievers from the same conventional system.
This combination of young learners from the left and right tails of the conventional achievement bell curve has allowed Tri-County Early College to showcase the diversity of gifts every young person brings to the table. Young learners at Tri-County Early College experience an interesting mix of learning opportunities thanks to their partnership with Tri-County Community College. At Tri-County Early College, learning is guided through a project-based learning lens. Each semester is entirely made up of projects that are based on the interests and passions of each learner, naturally developing learner agency along the way.
Imagine a learner who has taken a liking to law and order. The open-walled and personalized, relevant, and contextualized nature of Tri-County Early College will give him the opportunity to sit in a courtroom and watch a court case play out. When DNA evidence is submitted, the learner can immediately reflect back on what he learned during a biology lecture, gaining a more holistic understanding as to why DNA was a meaningful topic to learn.
After the court case is settled, the learner can use his connection to Tri-County Early College as a way to talk one-on-one with the presiding judge—exploring the case he just witnessed as well as broader questions he has about law. Inside and outside the walls of Tri-County Early College, there is an emphasis on socially embedded experiences, so learners cultivate strong communication skills.
This same learner will also be engaged in a more school-centered setting through his courses at Tri-County Community College where he will likely earn 60 credit hours before graduating high school. Thanks to the college credits earned at Tri-County Early College, young learners can enroll at a higher education institution as juniors. However, college is but one path made available to them. The ultimate goal at Tri-County Early College is to “equip students with the skills, knowledge, and inspiration needed to thrive in a changing world and to accomplish any dream imaginable”—whether that means attending college, starting an apprenticeship, finding an inspiring job, or starting their own business. As Tri-County Early College’s transformational journey unfolds, we can’t wait to see how their learners thrive as they continue their lifelong learning journeys.