Today, the Upper School parents at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School (where I work, learn, serve, and play) received a letter from Head of Upper School Tyler Thigpen, and I am quoting a significant section of the letter below, with his permission, as something like a guest blog post.
To give just a bit of context, the Upper School students at Mount Vernon experience (and share voice in the iterative implementation of) a very purposefully researched, designed and orchestrated transdisciplinary program. Using MVPS’s developed model of design thinking – DEEP (Discover, Empathize, Experiment, and Produce) – faculty and students focused on discovery and empathy phases in September, October, and November. Then, in the first week of school in January, students engaged in a mixture of content/context workshopping, vigorous presentation production, and iterative pitching to convince expert panels to approve further work on the projects into the experiment and produce phases. Pitches were evaluated on ten comprehensive criteria, and projects were also rated by degree of difficulty.
Okay, now onto the guest-blogging-by-way-of-parent-letter…
Dear Upper School Family,
Happy New Year!
I have been itching to share with you the deep learning, college preparation, and marketplace training that have already occurred this year.
Last week, thanks to an innovative plan crafted collaboratively by both students and teachers, Upper School students positioned themselves to leverage content and skills from their classes to design and pitch capstone projects aimed at real-world impact.
They developed creative solutions, honed their presentation abilities, and used constructive criticism to correct previous knowledge and improve ideas. Examples of diving deep in search of learning outcomes in some of their classes included: students writing algorithms, researching flora and fauna, learning profit maximization, understanding search engine optimization, and performing comparative analyses.
Students received pointers from visiting professionals such as the SVP of Business Operations at Turner Broadcasting, SVP of Communications & Investor Relations at First Data, VP of Marketing at Popeye’s, VP of Financial Planning & Analysis at Manheim, Chief Development Officer at Metro Atlanta YMCA, Councilman at City of Sandy Springs, and numerous others.
The learning that is taking place is truly remarkable.
Colleges appreciate when students come equipped to learn how disciplines overlap and how humanistic and scientific approaches can be applied to real-world issues and challenges. Both emphases were front and center last week. About this approach, a Wake Forest University faculty leader writes:
“Mount Vernon’s innovative move, allowing students and curriculum to cohabit in a learning environment, should serve as a model for all schools. The difference between knowing about and knowing is profound. When students engage the realities of their study–the good, bad, and the ugly– the result is ownership; students become actors who come to believe they can act. The point of education is to sanction agency for students to win their future. Hats off to Mount Vernon.”
– Dr. Allan Louden, Communication Studies Department Chair, Wake Forest University, and Director of United States Grant for the Ben Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Institute
From the private sector, another professional comments,
“Mount Vernon’s transdisciplinary approach focuses on building strong critical thinking and problem solving skills that will better prepare students to compete in a global marketplace.”
– Joanne Burke, Banker, Goldman Sachs; and Member of Board of Overseers, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Lastly, one of last week’s panelists remarks,
“Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of such an exciting experience! Not only was it meaningful to me because I witnessed tremendous growth in the students…but it was also incredible to see students tackling problems that exist in the world outside MVPS, offering significant and relevant solutions. I am impressed with the level of thoughtfulness and detail students put into their projects. Thank you again for allowing me to join!”
In my career I cannot remember seniors, during their final semester of high school, spontaneously celebrating success by running down a hallway and high-fiving classmates because of a school project. But that is what happened.
Levels of engagement, relevance, and challenge are high, and I look forward to sharing more updates as the process evolves.
Tyler S Thigpen
Head of Upper School
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School
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