Academic journal article High School Journal

Restructuring High School: Students' Perceptions of CLUB

Academic journal article High School Journal

Restructuring High School: Students' Perceptions of CLUB

Article excerpt

Since the mid-1980's, calls to reform high schools have been numerous. The focus of the reforms included revising curriculum, restructuring the organization of schools, and developing learning communities within schools. General and special education teachers at Hartford High School developed CLUB (Committed to Learning, Understanding, and Belonging), a project which restructured the sophomore schedule to create within-school communities emphasizing interdisciplinary curricula and students' sense of belonging in school. This study focused on students' perceptions of their experiences in project CLUB. Focus group interviews were conducted with students enrolled in CLUB, revealing their perceptions about high school in general, relationships with their peers, relationships with their CLUB teachers, engaging interdisciplinary curricula, and their sense of their own learning. While the data show that such efforts to restructure school and revise curricula are promising, the authors suggest several cautions for educators to consider in developing interdisciplinary, within- school communities like CLUB.

The Context of Reform

Since the mid- 1980's, calls to reform education have been numerous. Some educators have proposed revising the traditional school curriculum to reflect new understandings of how students learn. Others have expressed concern with the apparent lack of prosocial development among adolescents. Others have argued further that any effort of reform will be futile unless we restructure the organization of schooling. Johnson, Johnson, Holubec and Roy (1984) reported that a substantial number of students feel isolated and disconnected from their parents, teachers and peers. Jacobs (1989) reminded us that "8 times a day, students leap out of their seats every 40 minutes and rush for 5 minutes to another setting, another subject, another teacher, another set of students" (p. 4). Johnson and his colleagues concluded that teachers are less accessible due to bureaucratic demands on their time and that instructional methods are equally impersonal (Johnson, et al., 1984).

Marzano and his colleagues (Marzano et al., 1992) emphasized the importance of the learning environment and that the degree to which students feel accepted and comfortable relates to their abilities to learn. McDermott (1982) argued that contexts in which teachers and students have the resources to work together in a trusting environment are necessary for students to have the time and energy to devote themselves to learning. Noddings (1992) stated that the typical structures of schools work against an environment of trust and caring. Graves and Graves (1985) also emphasized the importance of the learning environment, stating it is imperative that greater attention be given to the processes of interaction in school. Typically, students' experience of learning has been piecemeal (Jacobs, 1989: Graves and Graves, 1985), with the expectation that students are able to create both social and academic connections on their own. Rather, as Graves and Graves proposed, a holistic approach to learning is necessary, enlisting a network of teachers to contribute to and to support students' learning.

For the past several years, teachers and administrators at Hartford High School(1), a professional development high school (PDS) in Michigan, with strong ties to Michigan State University (MSU), have made efforts to respond to recent calls to reform high school education. Hartford, a small community outside the Lansing capital area, has an economically and increasingly ethnically diverse population One theme to emerge at Hartford High School has been the question of how to better organize interactions among students and adults in school. Thus, CLUB (Committed to Learning, Understanding, and Belonging), evolved as a project in which the sophomore schedule was restructured to create within-school communities to foster genuine relationships among students and teachers in a consistent and supportive learning environment. …

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