The Surprise I Found When Learning Through Collaboration

Learner Voices   10 November 2016
By Lauren Gennerman


There doesn’t seem to be a job in existence that doesn’t require working with other people, and KM Perform recognizes that.

Lauren Gennerman
Learner, KM Perform

BEFORE I JOINED KETTLE MORAINE SCHOOL FOR ARTS AND PERFORMANCEotherwise known as KM Perform, my high school experience could be summed up in one word: boring. Not because my classes were necessarily easy—I had gotten into the honors sophomore level of english and an AP class during my freshman year—but because I was just gliding through. I didn’t have to work hard to achieve top grades, and the pace of learning, while it fit for many people, was much too slow for me. I could daydream through entire classes, and then pass tests and finish projects with ease. The only parts of my classes I actively enjoyed were those that had to do with the arts. Thankfully, one of my teachers noticed all of this and recommended I enroll in KM Perform the following year.

KM Perform is an arts-based charter high school. Students go into one of four focuses: music, theatre, visual art, or creative writing—my personal focus—and spend their time studying academics through the lens of their chosen art. Credits in KM Perform are earned through interdisciplinary seminars and workshops, rather than year-long, single-course classes. Though the school operates through an “arts lens,” students still address and are measured by the same standards as kids in a traditional, or legacy, high school.


It was only then I began to understand why KM Perform was set up the way it was.

Lauren Gennerman
Learner, KM Perform

When I first joined KM Perform, I would have preferred to work alone just as I did in my previous environment. At that time, I didn’t trust that other people would fulfill their responsibilities, let alone add value to anything I was doing. This singular mindset was common among high-achieving, AP track students. However, upon arriving in Perform, I was immediately placed into three different group projects and given a hard deadline to complete everything. Having to communicate with other people and depend on them for the first time in my life was not only terrifying but also significantly more challenging. To subdue my anxiety, I attempted to work through everything by myself, which was ultimately unsuccessful. As other assignments began piling on from other classes, I didn’t have enough time or ideas on what to do a particular project on. Getting started on it—let alone finishing it—was out of the question. Fortunately, the fear and stubbornness eventually gave way: All of my groups not only finished each project but also created incredible works of art, such as audio podcasts and short story horror films. It was only then I began to understand why KM Perform was set up the way it was.

During the creation of KM Perform, teachers wanted a place where students could learn core academics and dive deeply into the arts they were passionate about. They understood that collaboration and communication were the skills universities and employers suggested young people lack the most. There doesn’t seem to be a job in existence that doesn’t require working with other people, and KM Perform recognizes that practicing these skills will help us in the future just as much as being able to read and write.

Moving through my high school experience with this culture of intense collaboration, I have been able to create, be a part of, and lead many amazing projects. My personal favorite so far has been creating a literary magazine, Ampersand Pages. A few writing focus students were appalled that there wasn’t a way for us as students to physically publish our writing. Theatre focus had their productions, art focus had their art shows, and music focus had their concerts. But, what did we have? In order to fill this void and design a way to showcase the incredible work we were doing, five of us got together and created a literary magazine. The magazine invites students to share their writing—poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction—or a piece of artwork, and have it all published in a free book. The project was a huge success. We received over 30 submissions for our first publication, and we plan to release our second edition next May.


No longer is it a bore to have to go to school every day but a privilege I am honored to be a part of.

Lauren Gennerman
Learner, KM Perform

But, it isn’t just intensive projects we work on together. Usually, collaboration is a bit more discrete in our everyday lives. So, every Wednesday, we have a studio day that uses collaboration a bit differently. The writing focuses put our names on pieces of paper, put the papers in a hat, and the mentors (teachers who lead each focus) draw from the hat to select a speaker. The person chosen will stand up and share what they are working on, what they need help in developing, or lead a brainstorm on a concept for an assignment. Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors are all able to provide feedback, and it is through this process that the best ideas come to fruition. Working on our studio days provides more real-life context, like one could see working in an office. People aren’t always just doing their own assignments. They are bouncing ideas off one another all of the time, and fostering this environment will only prepare students for life outside of school.

In KM Perform, the culture is less “every man for himself” or “winner takes all,” and more about seeing how each person can improve by pairing complementary strengths and weaknesses to produce the best art possible. I have noticed this culture not only motivates me not only to simply do my assignments, but also to work harder and harder each time to exceed my performance on the last project. I know the purpose is to continue improving, and learning is neither solitary nor ever really finished.

While our legacy school offers different paths for learners (i.e. more AP and honors courses), there are some experiences that cannot be replicated. Being able to go to a school where I feel comfortable sharing what I’m working on and learning is an entirely different practice. When I was in a legacy school, I focused only on my own improvements and pushing myself to be the best. While competition is still a factor in KM Perform, the overall community wants each member to improve because the group will benefit as a whole. Learning with a community who genuinely wants to see me grow and succeed changes how I, and many people in KM Perform, think about learning. No longer is it a bore to have to go to school every day but a privilege I am honored to be a part of.

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