Peninsula Optional High School's name may be misleading. At the school district's newest school, learning is mandatory, the program shows tremendous potential to benefit peninsula students.
Indeed, one student had this to say about the performance-based approach to education: "I don't like it because I can't just get a D and be done with it."
That comment was relayed to the school board last February by Dawn Edward-Smith, a teacher at the school, during a presentation on how the standards-based curriculum works. The school opened this fall and its first semester of classes culminated recently with a human rights summit, a three-week activity that encompassed learning in all curriculum areas. Reading, writing, research skills, social studies, technology, math, science - students incorporated every subject into the activity.
The difference between Peninsula Optional and other high schools on the peninsula is not the material being learned, but the way in which students learn it. The curriculum has been broken down into close to 1,000 standards. A student must demonstrate proficiency in each standard to earn a diploma, but the way in which proficiency is demonstrated is up to the individual student. An oral report may work better for one, while another may opt for a computer presentation. If a science project includes a written paper, that paper can be used to fulfill a writing standard too.
Every student learns at a different pace. A student may excel in some areas, but need more time to learn material in others. The Peninsula Optional program accommodates students who want to move through the standards faster than their classmates, as well as students who learn at a slower pace. Each student is able to mold the curriculum to meet his or her individual needs.
"If it's better for kids to slow down ... and take their time until they're proficient, then that's what we do here. It's self-paced, truly self-paced," said Peninsula Optional Principal Gregg Wilbanks.
Peninsula Optional has great potential to meet the needs of students here on the central peninsula for whom the tradition high school curriculum just doesn't work. As the program develops, there is an even greater potential benefit to the district's small rural schools, where one or two teachers are asked to meet the diverse needs of students in multi-grade classrooms.
Trying something new, especially in the world of education where change is slow and dollars are tight, is always a challenge. With one semester in the books, the Peninsula Optional still is developing an identity and laying the groundwork for its future. In this day and age of school choice, the program shows great promise as an educational option for parents and students here on the peninsula.
We applaud the district and school board for giving the green light to Peninsula Optional High School, and look forward to future success.
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