I had the true honor of attending the graduation of the first incoming class of students at the Philadelphia School of the Future. It was an inspiring day celebrating a group of amazing students who have defied odds, embraced change, and overcome many obstacles to deliver…as we expected…an amazing result. All School of the Future graduating seniors have college or continuing education plans. But perhaps even more important…all students graduate with a recognition that they’ve only achieved one step…they EXPECT MORE of themselves, their education and their future. In a neighborhood where for some staying off drugs or out of jail is seen as an accomplishment…all 117 graduates face their life after high school with an optimism for what’s ahead and an understanding of their potential, and as Chief Learner Rosalind Chivis remarked at the close of the ceremonies…and a knowledge that “life is what YOU make it”.
As I reflect back on the opening of the school more than 4 years ago…in addition to the happy and exuberant incoming Freshmen…I most remember and often reflect on the parents and guardians who joined us for the opening celebration. They had the insight to recognize the opportunity their children had been given and foresight to recognize that lives would change as a result. I saw many of the same parents during the ceremony…and while all realized their initial impressions were right on the mark…what was unexpected was the scope of changes. It started by bringing a computer into their homes and the resulting influence on other children in the household and the caregivers themselves. It blossomed into a deeper appreciation of learning and skills development, and it culminated it an expectation across the family that things can be better. We started with a question of “what if”…we end with a question of “what’s next”.
There were no computers on display at the ceremony…no PowerPoint slides to run through or richly crafted videos to watch…only accomplished graduates, proud parents, glowing educators, and real JOY. In many ways this mirrors the ultimate goal of the school…one that I think has often been misunderstood. The school has never set out to deliver on the potential for technology to transform learning…but to demonstrate how transforming learning can help deliver on the potential of all students. We didn’t seek to bring all sorts of innovative technology into the school to marvel at the innovation and admire the fancy gadgets. Instead we worked alongside a vast community of partners and leaders to imagine what’s possible when you think holistically about change, enable broad transformation, shift expectations for all, and support the work with technology. This is the kind of model than can scale broadly…and enrich EVERY school…create a new norm.
I am humbled by the dedication and commitment of the staff of educators at the school who have truly made a difference in so many ways. I’m appreciative of the efforts of a supportive community that has truly embraced the school and helped drive it’s success. But most of all, I’m excited for what lies ahead for the 117 students receiving diplomas. My hope is they will set an example for their peers and never stop raising the bar for themselves, and in doing so, permanently lift the bar for those who follow.