Meaningful Learning for the “Real World”

For many teenagers, school is just school; a place to go and learn about numbers and things that happened way before we were born and nothing more. But for me, school is something that holds much more meaning. When I walk through the school doors each morning, I am embraced with the feeling of being home. I feel a sense of ownership, as do many other students, because this is our school and our community. Here at Quest High School, students and faculty work together as partners to better the school. Through this partnership, each person takes on responsibilities and duties to ensure that our school is a place that is valuable and safe for everyone. At Quest, each and every student and their voices count, and that is why I cherish my school so much.

I am now a senior at Quest and have been there since the start of my freshman year. We are a very small school community in Humble just north of Houston in the Lone Star State, with around only 250 students, while the other high schools in our district exceed 2,000 students each.

Though we are small, we most definitely have a great amount of pride for our school and everything students and teachers have accomplished together. Our mission statement at Quest is something that is deeply woven throughout our entire curriculum and school culture, “Quest High School is committed to providing a personalized learning experience in a working partnership with the community to create life-long learners and successful members of society.” Everything we do at school reflects our mission statement and the goals it holds for the students. And a very important aspect that our school is built upon is that we have a democratic system where everyone’s voice and ideas are heard and considered equally. We have different governing bodies throughout our school that faculty, students, and even community members are allowed to participate in. And in these different committees each is given a jurisdiction over certain areas of the school such as changing outdated and irrelevant policies and planning social events for the entire school.

One such organization is our school government called the Quest Community Management Council (QCMC). Within our government, we have a president, vice-president, and a few other officers. QCMC is in charge of dealing with issues about policies, student concerns, and even making sure that our Quest Constitution is being upheld. Last year, QCMC revised the constitution because it was written when the school first opened, and there were different issues that needed to be added. It is QCMC’s responsibility to make sure that both faculty and students collaborate when it comes to trying to revise policies and other issues.

I was both privileged and honored to attend a conference this past summer for my school in our nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C. Quest is also apart of the organization First Amendment Schools (FAS). This was an FAS conference focused on how to better the knowledge of our First Amendment rights as students. There were four students from our school, and throughout the entire conference we had educators from around the nation coming up to us students asking about our school because they have heard so much about it. It was an amazing experience as a student to teach the teachers and share with them the things that I have grown to love so much about Quest.

On the last day of the conference we had team planning, a time for all of the schools to get together with their own team and reflect upon last year’s progress towards the goals of education and the practice of our First Amendment rights. This was a time where we all seriously had to look back and fix what hadn’t worked and expand upon what had. We had three facilitators with us: our principal, assistant principal and a Spanish/history teacher. At Quest our teachers are called facilitators because that is exactly what they do; they facilitate our learning and guide us instead of just teaching us what to think. So they all vowed at the very beginning of that discussion that they would try their best not to lead the conversation but guide it and let us really express what we thought.

All four of us had a lot to say and everything was commented on by the teachers and they even had a few “ah ha!” moments from what they had heard. One such idea that we proposed involved the lack of communication between the students and teachers last year. We all thought that maybe being able to have QCMC representatives attend faculty meetings on a regular basis would allow for more collaboration between stakeholders. Our teachers thought this was a great idea and definitely something they would bring back to the staff for consideration.

The planning was a major success up there in D.C. but back at school things are moving slowly. We are now a few weeks into school, and our teachers have understandably been very busy, but our plans are still waiting to be put into action. And so my principal, Mrs. Kimberly Klepcyk, a woman that I deeply respect and owe so much to, personally confronted me and asked me to try and get the ball rolling with the implementation of our Washington proposals; something that needed to be done within our school government. Of course, I felt extremely overwhelmed, because I knew that this task would be no walk in the park. But I also felt tremendously empowered because making a difference in my school is something that I am always ready to do.

So the first step in the process of getting our proposals implemented was to get QCMC up and running because this is where decisions about any proposals are made, in our governance system. So I am now in the process of getting former QCMC members to speak about the organization in family (our advisory system at Quest), so that we can hold family elections to pick the two representatives from each advisory to be a part of the government. And then from there we are going to try and hold a schoolwide election to choose the QCMC presidents and such. We are going to try and make our election process as close to the real thing as possible, having students register to vote in family and even holding a schoolwide assembly where the candidates can give a speech to the student body about why they should be voted in. From there students will go to the voting poll (our school library) and cast their ballot for the candidate they want. By getting students involved, maybe it will strike their interest for other things in the future. This will also allow all students to give their voice in the decision-making process at our school and will make each day more meaningful for them, which falls back on our mission statement, “Quest High School is committed to providing a personalized learning experience…” Once the elections are finished, QCMC should be complete. We hope that once QCMC is ready to go, we can finally make some progress toward our Washington goals for the year. At times, I feel like these plans aren’t going anywhere and I should just give up, but I know it will be worth the time and effort in the end.

I feel strongly about our mission statement and the values our school was founded on, and I personally try and take advantage of every opportunity that is given to me. I feel so engaged at school and like what I have to say is important. Quest has provided me with a structured environment where feedback is praised. So throughout the years, I have given my input in discussions in family, was a facilitator for my family for a four-week well thought-out process called Project 540 in which we identified school issues and addressed them, attended faculty meetings when allowed to, and even attended a nationwide conference.

Being able to personalize and distinguish my learning makes being at school so much more priceless to me. Some community members do not consider Quest a valuable asset like we do and believe preconceived notions they have heard. These misconceptions about Quest hinder people to see the real facts behind our school. And I can honestly say that when an occasion arises to defend my school, I rise up and am more than willing to inform them of the truth. I have never been so proud to be a part of something than I am to say I attend Quest.

So what exactly have I learned these past few years at Quest? Just like any other high school student, I have learned some math and how to write, but most important, I have learned how to be a better person for my community and for myself. Learning about my rights as an American citizen and how to appropriately use them is something that I will always carry with me and be able to use in my everyday life. I used to believe that what I had to say meant nothing and that nobody really cared, but I have found out that every little suggestion can make a difference. I have grown from being the shy freshman in the back of family keeping to herself, to the senior who seizes every opportunity to get involved. Once I leave Quest, I know that I will never go back to being the old me ever again, because I have experienced the power of using my voice and have seen the effects of it. In the future, I hope to use what I have learned at Quest to become an active member of society. I know that my vote counts and that what I have to say can make an impact. As for the near future, I plan on going off to college next year.

The facilitators at my school have been a huge inspiration in my life, and I will never know how to repay them. The path that I now feel like I am on is leading me toward a job in education, because I hope one day to be an inspiration to someone else like my teachers have been to me. And I hope to be able to teach the lessons I have learned to others. People say that the children are our future, and Quest has shaped me to be the best that I can be for the future of our nation, and I hope I will return this favor to upcoming generations. I love my school and all of my teachers, and I will never forget what I have learned there.

Quest High School
Quest High School, in Humble, Texas, is a CES Mentor School paired with Empowerment College Preparatory School in Houston. Quest has powerfully influenced its own school district to cultivate personalization and implement service learning in all of its schools.

I am seventeen years old and have a twin sister and an older brother and sister. I am a native Texan and was born in Humble. I am a karate instructor and have been training in karate for nine years, and I just recently made it to third degree black belt. And I am also a Texas A&M fan, Gig ‘em!