Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Building Community: An Alternative Assessment

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Building Community: An Alternative Assessment

Article excerpt

The authors describe their high school's experience with senior public presentations, which brought closure to the school year and provided tangible evidence that the school's program really does match its mission statement and educational goals.

The 77 seniors at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, were gripped with angst. After inaugurating the sophomore service experience, the social issues class, and the senior job-shadowing/community service project, they were once again boldly going where no Christopher Dock student had gone before: the senior public presentations. While what was about to happen was new to all of us, it was the fruit of seeds that had been sown over the preceding three years. We want to share with Kappan readers what brought us to this point, our impressions while going through the experience, and our reflections on looking back at it.

Christopher Dock has an enrollment of 375 and had been tooling along just fine for 40 years, offering a solid, traditional, fully accredited, church-related education. Of course, as educational trends came and went, we made minor curricular adjustments, but such changes were more evolutionary than revolutionary. However, we began to hear rumblings from our constituents who wanted more than just a private school alternative to the local public schools. And in our faculty curriculum committee meetings, we agreed. We believed that we needed some kind of glue, a theme to provide a distinct focus for our school beyond traditional academics and extracurricular activities. Although we didn't have a technical name for the kind of curricular change we were considering, the Proactive/Interactive Change Model, developed by Gerald Zaltman, David Florio, and Linda Sikorski, comes close to describing our approach, in that the organizational mission of our school is central to any curriculum decisions.(1) The changes we made resulted in our "Building Community Curriculum," four required alternative classes with authentic assessments that span the entire high school experience.

The Freshman Retreat

The first element is the "freshman retreat," which quickly introduces students to the Building Community Curriculum. During the second week of the fall semester, freshmen attend an overnight retreat at a local summer camp. They are accompanied by the guidance counselors, a select group of seniors, and a group of faculty members who will serve in advisory roles for the rest of that school year and for the following three years. This two-day experience allows ample time for the entire class to become acquainted through group games and to hear advice from students, teachers, and administrators on how to be successful in high school. Freshmen are also required to take a nine-week class titled "Building Community," which emphasizes conflict mediation, career exploration, and study skills.

The Independent Service Project

The sophomore component of the Building Community Curriculum is a 12-hour, independent service project that is incorporated into a required one-semester Bible class. On their own initiative, students must choose a not-for-profit organization for which they will do volunteer work outside of the school day. Some popular choices have been sorting and tagging items in second-hand clothing stores, assisting with programming activities in retirement centers, and performing maintenance tasks in churches. Students keep a journal of their activities and record their thoughts and impressions.

Social Issues Class

Juniors take a required social studies course titled "Social Issues." This nine-week course is offered four times each year and examines current social problems in the U.S. with the hope that students will develop a sense of personal responsibility that translates into lifelong social action. Each student identifies and conducts research on a social problem, such as crime, AIDS, drug use, prostitution, or mental illness. …

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