My youngest niece graduated from high school yesterday with plans to continue her education at the local community college. I am very proud of her accomplishment. This grand milestone leads me to ask a fundamental question about education. What are the tools a child needs to find success in education? There is a plethora of research on the internet declaring why students drop out of school. However, there is very little research on why students persist in their pursuit of education. We know students drop out of high school because of academic failure, behavioral problems, life events, and disinterest. In their recent book, Leaving to Learn, Washor and Mojkowski list four additional reasons student leave school before graduation: sense of isolation, being invisible, untapped talents and restrictions.
My current research is with online high schools whose populations consist of mainly at-risk students. For many of these students, online high school is their last chance to earn a high school diploma before they age out of the system. These students are attending school in the comfort of their home using a school provided laptop. Challenging…YES! I do not know about you, but my house is not always the quietest place to study. Add to this setting no bells to wake you up and move you from one subject to another and a teacher looking over your shoulder to encourage you to complete your work. Schooling takes place on the laptop, which has equal ability to connect to Facebook and games as it does to school. To many students, this is the upside of online, to others this is the downside. Why are some students very successful despite external challenges?
Many students are very successful with online schooling or other nontraditional educational methods because these venues enable them to follow their interests. These individuals found their talents and passions at a young age and pursue their dreams through whatever means best helps them achieve their goals. There are students attending the online school who play semiprofessional sports, travel the world, or follow other interests that prevent them from using traditional schools. These students are the lucky few who have discovered their passions early in life. For others, adolescence is a time to explore, try different interests, fail, and try something else. Sir Ken Robinson has a new book, Finding Your Element, about discovering natural talents and passions during a time when many American students are dropping out of high school without a passion or education. A big part of finding your passion is to eliminate areas of interest through trial and error, yet many students are not given the opportunity to fail.
For both our boys, Curtis and I have tried to provide experiences in their fields of interests. For Aaron it has been flying lessons, Legos and Erector sets, Lego Robotics, The Museum of Flight where he volunteers, and ACE (Architecture, Engineering, and Construction) Club. For Elijah it has been visits to every zoo within driving distance from wherever we live, zoo camps, volunteer opportunities at animal rescues, magazines and books about animals, and opportunities for him to learn more about animals. Similarly, when working with the students at the online school, I have challenged them to talk to professionals, like fire fighters or writers, about their jobs, volunteer in a field of interest, and gain experience
Through travel and experiences, children learn to expand their horizons and look at other possibilities. Exploration takes the fear out of change that many individuals experience when transitioning from one milestone to the next. You cannot travel far without experiencing challenges, which are really learning opportunities in disguise. These experiences equip us to weather the vicissitudes of life. While traveling may present a few more challenges than a stationary lifestyle, the biggest difference is the opportunity to follow your passion and discover your true talents. Once you find your passion and talents, the rest of the details will follow. Then you achieve a real quality of life.