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What it Takes to Learn Your Way: A Personalized Approach

Authored By: 
Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison

This post is part of a series inspired by Dream School: NYC, a SundanceTV docu-series that follows 15 New York City teenagers who left high school and are now trying to get back on track to graduate. The Beekman School partnered with the show to help customize the learning experience for the students. Follow this blog to learn more and participate in the social media conversations using the hashtag #LearnYourWay.

After watching last week’s final episode of “Dream School: NYC,” I wanted to reflect on what we’ve learned from this experience. This has been a challenging journey for all parties involved: students, faculty, parents, mentors, and partners such as The Beekman School.  But it has also been a rewarding one.

When I was first asked to be part of the filming process for the show, I wanted to decline. They say teaching is an art, but I know that, from the outside, the process of teaching doesn’t look like art. It’s ugly and weird, and teachers have to be willing to put their hearts and souls on the line every day to get a room full of kids to follow them down the path of learning.

When I went down to judge the final presentations of the Dream School students, I wasn’t sure what to expect. In order to be as impartial as possible, I wasn’t given any background on them. As a result, I wasn’t aware that Scout suffers from an anxiety disorder because she filled the room with confidence and clarity. I didn’t know about Dylan’s learning difficulties because his PowerPoint was virtually flawless (it really did look amazing!)  I didn’t know about anyone’s struggles before I walked into that room, and it didn’t matter. Everyone there was committed to end on a high note.

While hearing these presentations, it became obvious what drove these students to succeed: someone believed in them. Regardless of their previous experiences and the various reasons that led them to drop out of high school, Dream School became a place where they reconnected with themselves and where their self-confidence was restored.

This series showcases the importance of tailoring the education experience and demonstrates that, with the proper guidance, everyone can be successful.  But this is not new information. Not to us here at Beekman, and not to you, the person reading this blog. In the end, this is just another example of why and how we need to personalize the education experience in our schools.

In the meantime, the rate of dropouts will likely continue to be high, and the number of students who have access to great opportunities such as Beekman or Dream School will continue to be low.

This brings us back to a question that drove our involvement in this project and which we hope will open a debate beyond the Dream School series or this blog post: how do we make this experience count for those who watched Dream School and identified with the students, but do not have a similar opportunity?

Share your thoughts with us on social media using the hashtag #LearnYourWay.