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City High’s four-year Cultural Literacy (CL) course is distinctive in its goals, content, and structure:
FROM THE STUDENT PERSPECTIVE: In 9th grade I remember the career class was going over a lot about what a “professional person” does, like how you are supposed to dress, how you act, how you speak. We also started researching what kinds of careers we might be interested in. My career plans have really changed because of the conversations I have had with teachers here. They expose you to a lot more options. They can relate what you want out of life and what you like to do to different jobs.
In 10th grade you do a lot of interviews and sometimes you have to be the employer. Being on the other side, that really helped me understand how an interview works. When we were doing the interviews, some people would deliberately be rude or be shy. First we would get the resumes and you would see if there is a grammatical error on there, what a bad impression that makes even before they come in. IÊ¼ll always remember I had “Roxanne” as an interviewee and she was really rude, she answered her phone during the interview, she stuck her gum on the paper. It was bad. But that definitely taught me what not to do.
Also in 10th we did a big project planning your future, where you might live, how much it would cost, making a budget. It broadened your horizons to think about it that way. We are actually setting up our future. This is the school I want to go to. This is the GPA I need. I need to cover up my tattoos and not wear too much make-up. They taught us how to be professional and brought us closer to being able to do what we want to do.
(GRADUATING SENIOR)…When I started 9th grade and heard we would have these same teachers until we graduated, I was like ‘Are you serious? This is going to kill me. I can’t take some of these people another year.’ But now I think ‘I really understand where the teacher is coming from and I try to relate to them the way they are relating to me.’ I thought I would get sick of seeing the same people every day. Now I think it is helping me learn better because my teachers know who I am.
The main thing is, it is easier to get help and guidance when you really know them. It makes it easier to learn. Asking for help is the big thing. You just don’t think twice—you are not scared what they might say or if they might think you are dumb. Presenting in front of the class used to scare me more than anything in the world. Now I was a little jittery but I am just so used to these students and teachers, it is much more comfortable. In the 9th grade my heart would beat so fast and I wouldn’t know what to say but now I trust no one is going to make fun of me. They know me. They are actually interested in what I am going to say. Now with teachers, I can be joked with. I never really had that with adults before. It used to bother me when a teacher would joke with me—it would make me scared to talk to them. Now it makes me want to work harder, like they are teasing me because they want to push me a little, because they care that I am going to do well.
City High’s staff promotion rubric provides a well-articulated career path of what it means to develop as a professional educator from Apprentice to Journeyman to Expert to Master to Administrator. Moving between levels—and receiving the substantial salary bumps—is based solely on demonstrated proficiency, not on time served, courses taken, or budget limitations.
City High believes—and research has demonstrated—that experience and credits are poor proxies for the quality of a teacher’s performance in the classroom. As co-founder Zinga explains, “In the traditional system, the pay scale is on auto-pilot and evaluation and compensation are on parallel tracks that never meet. One is about money and one is about quality. At City High, getting more money depends on demonstrating quality.”
At City High, 1-to-1 computing is integral to educational, communications and management practices.
As an educational tool, laptops serve as textbook, notebook, and library. Students receive, complete, and submit most assignments using their laptops. They use them to take notes, to collaborate on group projects, to conduct research, to pose questions to teachers.
They use them to gather and analyze data and create displays of their findings. Every member of the community has a home directory to save work on the server and teachers and students use them constantly. Putting these kinds of tools in the hands of every student all the time is fundamental to City High’s insistence that students take ownership of their learning—these tools enable them to play a more active role in their own learning, do more of the work.