I saw this on Twitter recently, and it got me thinking about our community culture at PSCS. Last Fall, a common theme in my family meetings was how much PSCS students love coming to school. This was nice to hear as I began my work as Interim Executive Director. This led me to observe our school closely in my first few months, in order to try and figure out why our students love coming to school. I now believe student agency is a big reason why.
When I think of student agency I think of students learning via topics and activities that are meaningful to them, that are driven by their interests and are, at times, self-initiated. I also think that a big part of student agency is appropriate support from teachers. When educators talk about student agency what they are really talking about is students having both voice and choice in how they learn. It can look like choice between projects, writing assignments, or larger things like classes. Student agency allows students to invest in their own learning.
I see student agency in almost every area of PSCS. It is woven into our cultural DNA. From day-one our students choose their own classes and have a say in the scheduling process. Then, in eighth grade, they experience a PSCS benchmark when they’re asked to complete an 8th grade project of their own choice and design—not only do they have agency in topic, but in the format of their presentation. Finally, in their senior year, our students design and implement their own six-month-long project.
Sure, there are still things that are structured for our students, but, in large part, they have control over their educational destiny.
Recent examples of student agency in action on our campus include things like:
- A sixth grade student coming up with an idea for an art contest, working with her advisor to plan the contest, and then facilitating the contest school-wide.
- Our student run school newspaper.
- Students of various skill levels using their laptops to create their own digital music.
- We currently have ten activities facilitated by students and supported by staff members during Winter Term.
So my answer to the question, “If students weren’t forced to come to school would they still show up?” is an emphatic, “Yes our students would!”