1. The school should focus on helping students learn to use their minds well. This includes helping students to: make connections between subjects; understand instead of memorize; go beyond set expectations (do extra credit work because they want to!); and develop life skills (think critically and logically and communicate clearly). Academics should be the top priority of the school and “other activities” should not interfere with a student’s education.
2. The school’s goals should be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. The program’s design should be challenging to students, yet not beyond their capabilities. It must be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative competencies that students need, rather than necessarily by “subjects” as conventionally defined. In achieving this goal it is important that teachers work together as a team. Curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort merely to cover content. Any decision designed to benefit the students should and must incorporate student input.
3. The school must realize that each student is unique and that learning styles of students often differ. Consequently, teachers need to adjust their teaching to meet all students’ needs so that every student is able to meet the school’s goals and expectations.
4. Teaching and learning should be personalized to the best of the school’s ability. Classes should be small enough to provide the personal attention each student needs. To better utilize time and materials, parents, students, staff, and administration should together make the important decisions for the school. 5. The school should encourage students to work and teachers to coach students in their work as opposed to teachers lecturing and students listening (or not listening) like vegetables. Students will then learn to take the initiative and will be motivated to become more involved in their educations.
6. Upon entering high school, general knowledge of math and language should be completed. The majority of the high school years should be spent learning essential skills. A diploma will be awarded when the student can successfully exhibit knowledge of these skills to the school’s community.
7. The school should be a place which is comfortable and inviting to all students. There should be a feeling of respect, trust, and partnership between students, parents, and teachers. In such an environment, students will be given the opportunity to express themselves, and their self-determination will rise, knowing that they can make a difference.
8. The teacher should be a generalist first (a teacher and a scholar of life) and a specialist second (an expert in one particular discipline). Specific classes may then deal with numerous disciplines. Staff will need to expect multiple obligations, including, but not always limited to, teaching, counseling, and managing. As they commit to a student’s entire education, they should no longer be viewed as an object of intimidation, but as a model of a lifelong learner.
9. Teachers and students need time to make these changes happen and happen well. Some more traditional programs may need to be sacrificed in order to make the changes work financially and logistically.
Produced by Essential school students attending the 1993 national Student Forum in St. Louis County, Missouri.