Back at the last assembly meeting, I committed to hold a series of discussions with kids–and open to parents–to elucidate a graduation process. The goal was to have a proposal ready for the the next assembly meeting (tomorrow), where it could be amended and [hopefully] approved so it can be presented officially in September.
The first meeting was reasonably well attended. It got so much done that only a handful of people showed up for a second meeting…which was predictably short.
The process we came up with draws from the suggestions of the kids, the Colloquium process at NYU Gallatin (which I went through as an undergrad.), and the mission of this ALC (supporting independent learners in intentionally creating their lives).
A student wishing to graduate from ALC-NYC needs to notify the school of this intention at least 6 months in advance. The intended graduate communicates that they have identified their Next Step, are beginning preparations to take it, and request community support in beginning the graduation process.
At this time, the school community chooses 2 of its members to support the student in preparing to graduate and to sit on the student’s Colloquium panel. The student chooses 2 additional community members to request the same support and panel membership from. Finally, the school community and student collaborate to find an individual whose experience or position is related the the student’s intended Next Step. The student invites this person to also join their Colloquium panel.
In the months leading up to graduation, the student works to prepare for their Next Step. They compile documentation of their preparation process into a portfolio, and this portfolio becomes what they present to the panel at their graduation. The panel members will review the portfolio and engage the student in a conversation, with the aim of determining whether the student is ready to graduate. After an hour of portfolio review and discussion, the student will step out and the panel will get clear on whether or not the student is ready to move on. When they have decided, they will relay their decision to the student.
Graduating students are also encouraged to throw themselves a party. They plan the kind of party that they want, and the school community gathers after their Colloquium to celebrate with them.
I expect the numbers of the members of the panel to change as the school grows in upcoming years. Personally, I like that the proposal addresses what I felt to be the two weak points of the Gallatin Colloquium process–the focus on ground covered rather than steps forward, as well as the lack of a reintegration phase of the ritual.
Thoughts? I’m presenting this to the assembly tomorrow…
I didn’t get this comment in before the Assembly Mtg, but one thing I would suggest is if they want to graduate on the normal school year cycle that we have dates instead of “6 months before.” For example, they should notify the school by October 31st of their intended Next Step and intention to graduate that school year, and then establish the members of their Colloquium panel by November 30th. That essentially gives them 6 months of school-time before June.
Also, if we want to have the panel be making a determination of preparedness/readiness for next step, I don’t think it should be based on a portfolio. A portfolio is appropriate to document readiness, but the panel should be involved in suggesting/requiring other specific demonstrations of knowledge or skill to certify graduation readiness. For example, if a student says they want to be a medical doctor, so their next step is an undergrad Pre-Med degree, their panel may suggest that SAT tests and a Bio AP exam are in order to set themselves on the right track (or whatever).
In any case, the bar that the graduate must clear should have been established much earlier so that they know they’ve cleared it, and probably so do all the panel members. The portfolio becomes the shareable evidence for colleges, parents, future generations, etc. Does that make sense? Or is that already a part of your understanding from what you described above?
Thanks for the feedback!
One of the parents brought up a similar point about the 6-months-before time frame when I shared this at the assembly meeting. The reasoning behind keeping it based on a flexible amount of time rather than setting a date in the school year is that some aspiring graduates may want to have the summer to work on their portfolios, have their colloquium done by winter break in case they need to re-do it, or have spring free to dedicate to travel/an internship. My college program worked this way: assuming that the colloquium is the process by which the school determines whether a student gets to label him/her-self a “graduate” of ALC-NYC, it can be completed at any point in the student’s final year. Then the student finishes the academic year or leaves early (if that’s the tuition/attendance arrangement). Which means an awkward liminal time of having an “I graduated but I still have to be here” identity crisis if one is still in a conventional school arrangement with required classes, but which I think could actually be a really rich and exciting time for someone who’s self-directed and practicing creating culture in their community.
Maybe? Changing to a deadline date would be simpler, and I’m glad to do that if it works better…As it is, we’ll probably end up going over the implied deadlines (so 6 months before the second-to-last-week of school is…) with possible graduates at the beginning of each year.
As far as the portfolio goes, your suggestions are things I was including in a very broad definition of “portfolio,” based off conversations with kids. I was trying to avoid listing possible portfolio compositions, so as not to limit anyone’s creativity, but mine would have been writing samples, lots of test scores and essays (required by the college I was trying to get into), a list of classes I was interested in taking, and reference letters from people I’d worked for in education settings. My best friend’s portfolio would have been a DVD with highlights from theater pieces she’d been in, sketches of buildings, a few 3D models of buildings, an artist’s statement, and a reference letter from her theater director (she went to school on a theater scholarship and studied interior architecture). I can imagine portfolios taking all kinds of forms, based on the requirements of the student’s Next Step. Whether a student can determine (or asks for support in determining) what an effective portfolio for them looks like should be one of the things the colloquium panel considers in deciding whether he or she is ready to graduate.
I am OK with the 6-month thing and keeping it flexible, we just need to make that super clear to the teens who will be approaching this process — that it is up to them to figure out the timeline of when they want to be done knowing it will take at least 6 months. If they are at all concerned about the process, then they would need to allow 12 months. Or, perhaps, we can say that if the panel determines they are not ready after the first six months, they can enter into a 3-month extension. This would allow a student to begin the process in September/October, not reach the bar, and then still get through it in that school year, assuming the second round was successful.
On the portfolio —
I think the name is fine for a broad definition. What I think needs more clarity is “the bar” as Art put it, or the nature of the portfolio. This should be the first thing that the group determines after it is created and the 6-month timer should probably begin when the first meeting panel meeting is held. I would imagine it should be the student’s responsibility to say, “I want to graduate in six months. I want to do A when I graduate. In order to do A, I will produce a portfolio of X, Y, and Z, to demonstrate my readiness.
The panel would then review the plan and suggest additions/subtractions based on their wisdom and experience with the path the student is on. The goal is to come up with a action plan that is effective and practical for their “next step”.
The panel should then also each make clear to the student how they are best reached and accessed for check-ins or support throughout the process, so it is clear to the student how they can best utilize this support/resource along the way. From there, it is up to the student to drive that process.
So, if I’m on a panel and I never hear from the student after the first meeting and then the review of the portfolio feels a little week in spots that I could have been helpful, I’d be more likely to say “no not ready”. Utilizing the human resources along the way (to the extent that they are needed) seems to be an important part of the process.