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Volume 16, Number 2
March/April 2000

One Urban School's Adventures in Reform

With the help of an innovative program, King Middle School became an award-winner

 

In 1987, when Mike McCarthy became the principal of the King Middle School in Portland, Maine, he knew the school was in a slump. "This was a school no one would want to go to," says McCarthy. The traditional teaching methods weren't helping the urban school's 600 students very much. The diverse student body scored poorly on state tests. In 1992, McCarthy proposed that the school adopt what was then a brand-new reform model: Expedition ary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB). Figuring there was nothing to lose, the staff approved the decision.

Based on the team-building approach of Outward Bound, the adventure-and-service-based educational program, ELOB encourages students to view learning as a mission that requires teamwork, commitment to the community, and an ability to solve real-world problems. Learning expeditions involve long-term explorations of single themes, such as civil rights or local ecology, that engage students in multidisciplinary projects, fieldwork, and community service. Students are asked to reflect on and critique their own work and that of others. All of this is meant to make learning relevant, to answer the question often heard by bored or frustrated students: What's the point?

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.

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