Our innovative learning model leverages research-based design elements that uniquely address the needs of diverse student populations in under-resourced communities. Equity Lab integrates the following five design elements: (1) Project-based Learning; (2) Community-based Learning; (3) Inclusive Learning; (4) Social Emotional Learning; and (5) Creative Learning.
Design Element #1: Project-based Learning
Project-based learning involves a year-round study where students work in teams to research real issues that are affecting their community and develop viable solutions. This process involves researching and analyzing the problem, designing and testing possible solutions, choosing the best design based upon the best outcome, and sharing their results with civic authorities and professional experts in the fields related to their projects. In the process students discover how the academic disciplines interact and their real-world applications.
Project-based learning practices include:
Integrated Learning Experiences. The academic and the co-academic subjects (arts and movement) are organized to support students’ inquiry and learning experiences and to demonstrate cross-curricula connections and their applications. The core concepts and skills of each subject are a clearly linked to a project.
Social Entrepreneurship. Project-based learning is anchored in authentic experiences of social entrepreneurship. We define social entrepreneurship as the development of innovative and sustainable solutions to pressing social problems. Social entrepreneurs seize opportunities to transform systems and focus on the assets of communities to leverage changes. They do not see the people they serve as passive beneficiaries or as part of the problem, but as resources and collaborators in the change process. Social entrepreneurs operate from the core belief that the best solutions unleash the human potential within communities. Students engage in a year-round social entrepreneur project that includes the following steps: (1) Start-up- understanding a community problem; (2) Deep Dive—conducting research for possible solutions; (3) Design and incubate—testing possible solution models; (4) Go public—sharing results with community experts; and (5) Look forward and back—reflecting on the experience and lessons learned.
Social Entrepreneur Mindsets. Through the annual social entrepreneur project, students receive coaching from teaching staff, community experts, and mentors in not only recognizing the assets within themselves to overcome challenges but sees the assets within a community to overcome systemic problems. A social entrepreneur mindset ensures that students not only exercise persistence in their own learning but exercise persistence in civic action.
Community Learning Forums. At specified intervals, student teams are required to share their project work with a panel of parents, board members, community members, and field specialists. Families and community members have the opportunity to learn about students’ learning and to provide constructive feedback. Community Learning Forums culminate with end of the year presentations and exhibitions of students’ project work.
Expanded Learning Time. Academic and co-academic classes are organized into extended blocs to provide adequate time for students to engage in focused and sustained inquiry.
Project teams. Students are organized into flexible project teams (4 to 5 members) over the course of the year so that they can experience the synergy of collaboration to support their academic and social emotional development.
Project Learning Plans. The Project Learning Plan (PLP) is a comprehensive portfolio of student assessment data that tracks students' progress towards achieving their educational goals.
Students as agents of their own learning. Student agency of their own learning would be structured through the consistent use of higher order thinking strategies, authentic student discourse, and social entrepreneur mindsets.
Teacher as coach and facilitator. Project-based learning requires teachers to redefine their roles. Rather than being the source of student learning, they become the facilitator of student learning.
Design Element #2: Community-based Learning
The community becomes the classroom for students. The community becomes a partner and teacher in their development because powerful learning extends beyond the walls of a school building. Students come to appreciate the assets of their community rather than primarily seeing the community through a deficit lens, which too often is the dominant frame in education. When students become invested in their communities, their motivation to be change agents increases because they have taken ownership of problems that impact the community. When educators use curriculum that reflects the hopes and aspirations of a community, the material becomes authentic and relevant for students. Students can see themselves making a real impact when the curriculum is deeply connected to the community. The result is greater focus by students and greater engagement in the community.
Community-based Learning practices include:
Community Exploration. Because students engage in year-round study of a community issue or challenge, they make expeditions to community sites to conduct research. Our experience in the wake of COVID-19 revealed that these expeditions can also be organized remotely.
Tutoring and Mentoring Program. Community professionals and volunteers coach students in real-world application of academic and social emotional competencies and provide targeted support to help students improve problem areas in their performance. This program occurs within classrooms to ensure that support is monitored by staff and is aligned with academic and social emotional goals.
Internships. Students experience how learning happens in work place contexts and they come to understand the links to their academic studies. Learning by doing is an essential component of our education design. Internships are one full day per week beginning at the high school level. The goal is to rotate students through a series of experiences from their 9th to 12th grade so that students are prepared to map out a possible career path that will become part of their College/Post-Secondary and Career Plan.
Early College or Dual Enrollment Program. High school students can typically earn 4 to 12 credits towards a bachelor program and in some cases earn an Associate degree by the time they graduate from high school. Students have the option of using their internship day to take a college course at local colleges that participate in the program.
Design Element #3: Inclusive Learning
Inclusive learning honors the diversity of students’ cultural, intellectual, physical, linguistic and social emotional backgrounds. In addition to providing educational supports and opportunities that provide access to learning, enabling full participation in the school program, inclusive learning is also about providing a challenging academic environment for all students. Each student experiences that she/he is a valued member of the learning community and is provided the resources to achieve at high levels.
Inclusive Learning practices include:
Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based instructional approach that honors the range of capacities and disabilities that students bring to the classroom and serves as the foundation of an inclusive learning environment (one of the hallmarks of our school mission). UDL proposes that learning and assessment should be structured around three principles. First, providing multiple means of representation (including visual and audio supports for accessing content knowledge). Second, providing multiple means of expression (using multi-modal approaches to competency-based assessments). Third, providing multiple means of engagement (scaffolding learning to address the unique needs and interests of students).
Sheltered Content Instruction. To accommodate the linguistic and cultural diversity of our student population, we have chosen an inclusive educational model that integrates Sheltered Content Instruction into all phases of our project-based learning experiences. Sheltered content instruction will include: (1) Design and Plan- content and language objectives are accessible and supplementary materials are available to support student learning; (2) Build background knowledge—academic concepts are explicitly linked to students’ backgrounds and previous learning, and key vocabulary is emphasized using multi-modal approaches such as visual and auditory cues; (3) Build comprehension—teacher uses language structures (simple sentences, clearly enunciated words, simple directions) and body language/gestures to ensure comprehension and uses concept-building strategies (visual cues, modeled/shared/guided/ independent practice); (4) Interactions—students have the opportunity to discuss concepts with peers and wait-time is consistently built into classroom routines; (5) Practice and Application—students have opportunities to consistently apply concepts and language using reading, writing, and listening strategies (see Reading and Writing Workshop below); (6) Lesson delivery—learning is appropriately paced and learning is active and student-centered (7) Review and Assessment—teachers consistently use a variety of ways to assess student comprehension and mastery of learning (conferring, check-ins, competency-based assessments).
Reading and Writing Workshop. Every teacher is a reading and writing teacher. Students need to read and write in a variety of contexts where they must master how a particular discipline uses specific language domains. For example, students in Science Integration classes would need to learn how to read a scientific journal or to write a lab report. EVERY teacher will use the following structure to support reading and writing in their integrated learning classrooms: Mini-Lesson- a 10 to 15 minute introduction into a particular reading or writing strategy that supports the project-learning in the classroom; Project work time—for 45 to 50 minutes students work on their project utilizing the particular reading and writing strategy; and Project sharing—5 to 10 minutes where students update other students on their projects and how they used a particular strategy. Teachers would provide daily practice for students to use a common set of reading and writing strategies. Reading comprehension strategies include: activating prior knowledge, determining important ideas, inferring, asking questions, creating visual images, using context clues and etymology for vocabulary building, decoding with assistive technologies, and retelling or synthesizing. Writing strategies include: graphic organizers, planners, concept-webs, grammar and syntax correction protocols, collaborative revising and editing process, and note-taking organizers. Both reading and writing would use the UDL scaffold of visual and audio supports and modeled, shared, guided, and independent practice.
Design Element #4: Social Emotional Learning
Social emotional learning (SEL) is based on the understanding that the best learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging, and meaningful. SEL programming focuses on helping students to develop a strong sense of identity, set goals, build resiliency to overcome problems, and cultivate empathy to support constructive relationships with adults and peers.
Social Emotional Learning practices include:
Morning Circle. Students begin the first 30 minutes of the day in morning circle where they connect with a staff member and a small group of 8 to 10 students. Morning circle has three goals: (1) Provide a safe space where students can share their thoughts and feelings; (2) Help students to focus on their academic and personal goals; and (3) Provide training in strategies to support social/emotional development (i.e. resiliency training). The morning circle advisor is also the primary point of contact for families and teachers of a student. If a teacher or parent has a question or concern, the morning circle advisor is responsible for connecting with parties to resolve an issue. This ensures that there is clear and consistent communication being exchanged between the school and families.
Restorative Justice Program. Restorative Justice is a proactive disciplinary program that builds community by empowering students to resolve conflicts and problem behaviors.
Continuous Learning (looping). Students are organized in grade-level cohorts (an average of 20 students per cohort) where they work with the same group of teachers for two consecutive years. Each grade-level cohort is called a Project Advisory. A growing body of research has documented that students achieve greater levels of learning and achievement when transitions and disruptions are minimized. This structure also allows for staff and students to develop deeper relationships where students feel known as learners and their growth can be more closely monitored.
Resilience Program Management (RPM). Through RPM students have access to a comprehensive system of academic and social emotional interventions to address their diverse needs and to build resiliency to overcome challenges.
Accelerated Learning Labs (ALL). ALL is one of the key components of RPM. High need students, as determined by RPM have the opportunity to receive targeted support in Math or ELA for 2 to 4 days a week (2 to 4 hours per week). ALL occurs during integrated learning periods and is 60 minutes per session. Academic and specialist teachers (ELL and Special Education) are responsible for conducting ALL. ALL also serves as a vehicle to ensure that students receive targeted services in an inclusive learning environment. Students with disabilities can receive visual, auditory, speech and language, and occupational support during ALL. ESL/ELL teachers provide direct English instruction during ALL.
Design Element #5: Creative Learning
Creative learning develops students’ capacities to imagine, create, and innovate. A rapidly evolving world requires students to be creative problem-solvers and collaborators. Creative learning advances that students need to interact with ideas and concepts in multiple ways because they come to classrooms with particular gifts and learning preferences (linguistic, kinesthetic, spatial, mathematical, and musical). True student-centered classrooms need to be structured to honor students’ diverse ways of knowing the world and themselves. Our education program immerses students in a knowing by doing model. Arts and movement are the most critical vehicles to support creative learning, and we refer to them as co-academic subjects because they are as essential as the academic subjects. Classrooms become working studios where students have opportunities to interact with and master essential academic concepts and skills through multi-sensory experiences.
Creative Learning Practices practices include:
Studio environment. Classrooms are structured as studio workspaces where students have opportunities to experiment with ideas and concepts using multiple mediums.
Arts Integration. The arts are integrated into the curricula in two ways: (1) Arts in the academic subjects: Arts integration teachers (or co-academic teachers) have opportunities to co-teach with academic teachers to provide multisensory learning experiences. Through diverse art mediums (painting, drawing, models, music, film/media, drama/performance) students creatively explore, develop, and demonstrate their understanding of key academic concepts and skills. (2) Arts integration classes focus specifically on arts as a content area and occur within a daily block. Similar to the academic areas, the core concepts and skills of art are thematically linked to a project to create cross-curricular connections.
Movement Integration. Similar to the arts program, movement is integrated into the curricula in two ways: (1) Movement in the academic subjects: Movement integration teachers (or co-academic teachers) have opportunities to co-teach with academic teachers to provide multisensory experiences. Movement includes dance, creative sports, and movement strategies (exercise bursts, kinesthetic problem-solving games). (2) Movement integration classes focus specifically on movement as a content area and occur within a daily block. Similar to the academic areas, the core concepts and skills of movement are thematically linked to a project to create cross-curricular connections.