Last week, I went to two educational institutions in Greater Boston that are widely recognized as being on the forefront of innovation. Both schools are pioneering new ways to serve their students and prepare them for the 21st Century. They are first-movers, taking risks and venturing into new territory — with the singular focus on what’s best for their students. These are the schools that other area schools watch and follow.
That’s where the similarities diverge. One school serves a population where half of the students come from families earning under $35,000. The other school costs more than $45,000 in tuition.
Beaver Country Day School and Bunker Hill Community College have leaders that are rewriting the rules and exploring how to improve the educational experiences and outcomes for their students.
Beaver was recently featured in Education Week. The school is well-resourced, and its students come from the top fifth that I’ve written about. Beaver is building a state-of-the-art Research and Design Center — beautifully designed and thoughtfully constructed for 21st-Century learning, it promises to be the centerpiece of an already innovative education and a model for other schools to emulate.
With public funds, political support, and important corporate relationships, Bunker Hill is also well-resourced. Bunker Hill’s students, however, largely come from the other four-fifths, and most are the first in their families to pursue higher ed. The needs of its students have driven innovation. From an on-campus food pantry (food insecurity on campus is a huge issue; read for more info) to offering classes at off-hours and weekends so working students can attend; to the Learn and Earn program that provides real-world corporate work experience that comes with pay and often a T-pass (unpaid internships are an advantage only already-advantaged students can use).
At first glance, these institutions would seem like polar opposites. In reality, however, their approaches to innovation and the questions they ask to get there make them very similar. Two sides of the same coin, in essence. They both put students first and focus on student outcomes (one tracks college placement, the other tracks job placement) and are committed to innovating solutions every step of the way.
It will be interesting to see how other independent or affluent school districts follow Beaver’s lead in creating spaces for 21st Century learning. It will be equally as interesting to watch the other 14 community colleges in Massachusetts, and see how they embrace innovations pioneered at Bunker Hill. Their leaders should be applauded for taking risks to drive improvement — and both communities benefit as a result.
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