What is the reaction of friends outside of school when you describe Avalon?

/ 24 November 2009

The reactions I saw when first describing Avalon to my friends outside of school was a fairly universal one. Really all of them were interested in how the school functions, though some were more interested than others. A few of the friends I ended up explaining Avalon to shortly after starting at Avalon knew other students at Avalon too, but hadn’t fully understood the school. Of course, unless you’re a student at the school or part of an Avalon family you can’t fully understand the school, but I like to expand their understanding as much as I can. My explanations for each different person that asks all start out the same and then expand based purely on their initial reactions. Like any Avalon student the first thing I say is that Avalon is a project-based charter high school on University Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota. That single sentence comes packed with a lot of simple facts that could be branched out upon, but universally the “project-based” one is what I need to explain. After I explain in brief the inner workings of a project-based school and how Avalon functions as one I will generally get the understandable reaction that Avalon is unique and to their eyes barely seems like a real school. Both comments make perfect sense to me. It’s a simple fact that project-based schools are unique, when compared against traditional schools there are just a handful of them. The second comment is also understandable. Most people are used to school being entirely driven by the teachers, with in retrospect minimal student input, and all the work being assigned by the teacher. At Avalon it is the opposite for the majority of students and our time. We create the projects, hence we create not just what the assignments will be, but largely what our entire curriculum is. The only solid requirements we have are laid out in the form of the 208 state graduation standards. The overall reaction is interest in how the school functions but a clear sense of not really wanting to be at Avalon as a student themselves. This is a human reaction when looking at a way of doing something that is entirely different from the way the masses do it. Project-based learning is exactly that. A major divergence from the traditional structure of a school, but one that definitely engages students much better and as a result we end up learning more and being active citizens when we graduate,