View from the Classroom: Washington Leadership Academy

Ten months ago, the XQ Super School Project, a new national campaign backed by Laurene Powell Jobs, awarded ten high schools ten million dollars each to become truly ready-for-the-future, 21st century schools. One of those schools, Washington Leadership Academy (WLA), a new public charter school in Washington, DC, recently partnered with One World Education to bring its futuristic vision to life.

One of WLA’s classes, called LEAD, focuses on developing students’ leadership and life skills. To jumpstart their efforts, all 9th grade students are writing argumentative essays about social justice issues of personal interest using the One World Program and its highly-scaffolded approach.

First-year teacher Kevin Miller is spearheading the LEAD course at WLA. On a recent sunny afternoon, Mr. Miller’s students were turning their essay outlines into rough drafts. All the students in the class were sitting around tables in groups of four, eyes on their laptops, fingers typing rapidly. Mr. Miller glided across the room, checking in on individual students with the ease of someone who looked like he’d been teaching for a decade. In the front of the room, a projection on the whiteboard highlighted key elements from the One World lesson.

Seated right by the door, Solomon was writing about health care. He’d heard family members discussing their worries that they may soon lose their coverage. When he researched health care policies in other countries, he became even more passionate about the issue and what it means for his family. Nowhere else in the world were children like him losing their coverage, so he wanted to know how anyone could argue that he should. He went looking for counterclaims.

Across the room, Yessenia was writing about the minimum wage. She wanted all working parents to make more so that their families could afford health care and college for their kids. She sees this as the only way kids in her neighborhood will be able to break out of the cycle of poverty. She told us she welcomed the opportunity to write about a topic that was directly relevant to her life. As an aspiring author, she also appreciates how the One World Program has helped hone her writing skills.

Seated toward the back corner, Derriann asked a circulating One World Education staff person for help on her essay about immigration. She didn’t know how to start transforming her outline into a rough draft. The One World staffer turned to a glossary of sentence stems and transition words in the One World Journal, reviewed the different categories, and shared examples of how a few of them could be used for different purposes. Suddenly, Derriann saw how her ideas flowed together, and her writer’s block passed. By the end of the class, she was beaming, having completed her entire draft!

As the class period came to a close, Mr. Miller noticed that Derriann was the exception and that many other students were still busy at work, racing to meet the deadline he’d set. He announced that he would remain after school for students who wanted to continue their work. Most of the class stayed seated, some staring off in deep thought and others typing feverishly.

At one desk after another, we could see a quiet confidence taking hold as kids were starting to own their topics and arguments, making us look forward to their final papers and presentations.

Mr. Miller noted that throughout the One World Program, his students have "really enjoyed picking their own topics," fostering a high level of engagement. He said he thought his students would be eager to compete for scholarships in the citywide One World Student Ambassador Challenge next year.

“I’m looking forward to posting some of the students' finished work on our website this summer,” said One World Education's CEO, Eric Goldstein. “We’re thrilled to be working closely with and learning from WLA as they build their school for the future.”

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