The Sedona Red Rock High School exhibition is a mandatory requirement for students who wish to graduate from the school. An exhibition is a demonstration, through the application of specific skills and knowledge to a complex task. The exhibition performance will demonstrate that the student possesses the habits of mind, heart, and work that the school values (Exhibitions, 2007). This paper analyses the Sedona Red Rock High School exhibition and why the Coalition of schools has to participate in this exhibition.
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History of the Exhibition
This section provides details about the history of the exhibition and gives details of the coalition of essential schools.
History of the Exhibitions at SSRHS
Hrisch (2007) reports that all Graduates of SRRHS have to complete an exhibition as a way of demonstrating to themselves, their families, the community, and the faculty and staff that they possess a strong set of skills, knowledge, and understandings, which has prepared them for their next stage of life. The CES was started about 20 years back and the exhibition was started a few later. It receives large funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Sedona Red Rock High School (SHS) serves a distinctly diverse community of learners. Within a five-mile radius from the high school, there are five million dollar mansions, mobile home parks where two or more families share a trailer, and lots of other types of housing in between.
The English Language Learner population is at least 20% and growing. Though some Sedona Red Rock students have lived in the town all their lives, most have come from other parts of the country and from outside the United States. In 1999, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) was introduced as the standardized state graduation test, and in 2006, students were required to pass the AIMS Reading, Writing and Math tests in order to graduate. The students now have four high-stakes graduation exams, three at the state level and one exhibition, and more are on the way. Though SRRHS has preserved exhibitions as a graduation requirement, six years ago the management reduced the number of graduation exhibitions because of the imminent tests. The decision was made despite incredible debates among the faculty. The conclusion was that the faculty was worn thin mentoring exhibitions and that time at school would soon be consumed by the state tests.
Hrisch (2007) further comments at the 2006 CES Fall Forum, representing the Forum for Democracy and Education, Stanford University education professor Linda Darling-Hammond spoke about the national testing craze. She commented that “tiny cracks” in the current testing system were motivating her desire to get involved with NCLB’s upcoming reauthorization. These cracks, in states like Nebraska, give her hope regarding changing the nature and the stakes of the states’ assessment systems. Darling-Hammond also shared information about the 2006 Florida gubernatorial election, which had educational testing as its central argument. She believed that what was needed was to capitalize on these cracks and bust them open. Darling-Hammond spoke frankly about the deep ironies that are resulting from NCLB. Sensible teachers are making nonsense decisions, such as putting a letter grade on diagnostic tests or excluding low-performing students from time with an artist in the classroom so they can practice reading.
About the Exhibitions
Exhibitions are a form of proof that the student has earned an SRRHS diploma. To graduate from high school, each student must earn 30.5 credits and successfully execute a senior exhibition. Most of the classes are project-based and are aimed at preparing students for their exhibitions. This high-stakes assessment is required for everyone, even the foreign exchange students. As in most CES schools, the level of scaffolding varies from student to student, yet everyone’s work is judged with the same rubric. The description of the tasks themselves is intentionally brief. The goal is to set the task but to allow room for individual interpretation, imagination, and initiative. Each exhibition consists of the parts: understanding the task and planning how to do it; doing the work itself; and, presenting the exhibition to a group, and responding to questions about the exhibition. Exhibitions are an honorable way for students to demonstrate that they can do important work. Exhibitions are an assessment tool that illuminates our students’ potential and capacity for deep learning. The expectation is that the preparation of these performances will stretch the students’ abilities beyond those demonstrated through class projects and other assessments. (Exhibitions. 2007)
Students are required to write their exhibition proposal by following the proposal-writing rubric. Students are required to submit their proposals to the staff for critique, and after several drafts, the students need to obtain signatures from three exhibition committee members. The exhibition is a culmination of the student’s academic experience. The faculty expects that the students’ work will reflect the skills and knowledge gained over their four years. Further, this exhibition will demonstrate that the students can go beyond the classroom environment and work independently towards their goals (Exhibitions. 2007).
A coalition of Essential Schools
Hirsch (2007) has written about the ‘No Child Left Behind policy that the US Department of Education has introduced. According to the policy, all children, irrespective of their background, ethnic origins, the financial status of their parents had to receive some amount of schooling. The policy was designed to reduce juvenile delinquency and give poor and less privileged children, a chance to make a better future for themselves. Accordingly, the Coalition of Essential Schools was formed to and it includes hundreds of schools and more than two dozen Affiliate Centers. Diverse in size, population, and programmatic emphasis, Essential schools serve students from pre-kindergarten through high school in urban, suburban, and rural communities, and they are characterized by personalization, democracy and equity, and intellectual vitality and excellence.
CES practice is shown by small, personalized learning communities where teachers and students know each other well in a climate of trust, decency, and high expectations for all. Modeling democratic practices with a strong commitment to equity, Essential schools work to create academic success for every student by sharing decision-making with all those affected by the schools and deliberately and explicitly confronting all forms of inequity. The schools focus on helping all students use their minds well through standards-aligned interdisciplinary studies, community-based “real-world” learning, and performance-based assessment. For over twenty years, the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) has been at the forefront of creating and sustaining personalized, equitable, and intellectually challenging schools. Essential schools are places of powerful student learning where all students have the chance to reach their fullest potential.
Principles of CES
The CES site has mentioned certain principles of CES that help to guide the network. The Coalition of Essential Schools’ Common Principles, based on decades of research and practice, reflect the wisdom of thousands of educators successfully engaged in creating personalized, equitable, and academically challenging schools for all young people (About CES, 20 August 2006).
The ten common principles are briefly explained as below:
Learning to use one’s mind well: The school should focus on helping young people learn to use their minds well. Schools should not be “comprehensive” if such a claim is made at the expense of the school’s central intellectual purpose.
Less is More, depth over coverage: The school’s goals should be simple: that each student master a limited number of essential skills and areas of knowledge. While these skills and areas will, to varying degrees, reflect the traditional academic disciplines, the program’s design should be shaped by the intellectual and imaginative powers and competencies that the students need, rather than by “subjects” as conventionally defined. The aphorism “less is more” should dominate: curricular decisions should be guided by the aim of thorough student mastery and achievement rather than by an effort to merely cover content.
Goals apply to all students: The school’s goals should apply to all students, while the means to these goals will vary as those students themselves vary. School practice should be tailor-made to meet the needs of every group or class of students.
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Personalization: Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal that no teacher has direct responsibility for more than 80 students in high school and middle school and no more than 20 in elementary school. To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of students’ and teachers’ time, and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.
Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach: The governing practical metaphor of the school should be student-as-worker, rather than the more familiar metaphor of teacher-as-deliverer-of-instructional-services. Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching, to provoke students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.
Demonstration of mastery: Teaching and learning should be documented and assessed with tools based on student performance of real tasks. Students not yet at appropriate levels of competence should be provided intensive support and resources to assist them quickly to meet those standards. Multiple forms of evidence, ranging from ongoing observation of the learner to completion of specific projects, should be used to better understand the learner’s strengths and needs and to plan for further assistance. Students should have opportunities to exhibit their expertise before family and community. The diploma should be awarded upon a successful final demonstration of mastery for graduation – an “Exhibition.” As the diploma is awarded when earned, the school’s program proceeds with no strict age grading and with no system of credits earned” by “time spent” in class. The emphasis is on the students’ demonstration that they can do important things.
A tone of decency and trust: The tone of the school should explicitly and self-consciously stress values of un-anxious expectation (“I won’t threaten you but I expect much of you”), of trust (until abused) and of decency (the values of fairness, generosity, and tolerance). Incentives appropriate to the school’s particular students and teachers should be emphasized. Parents should be key collaborators and vital members of the school community.
Commitment to the entire school: The principal and teachers should perceive themselves as generalists first (teachers and scholars in general education) and specialists second (experts in but one particular discipline). Staff should expect multiple obligations (teacher-counselor-manager) and a sense of commitment to the entire school.
Resources dedicated to teaching and learning: Ultimate administrative and budget targets should include student loads that promote personalization, substantial time for collective planning by teachers, competitive salaries for staff, and an ultimate per-pupil cost not to exceed that at traditional schools by more than 10 percent. To accomplish this, administrative plans may have to show the phased reduction or elimination of some services now provided students in many traditional schools
Democracy and equity: The school should demonstrate non-discriminatory and inclusive policies, practices, and pedagogies. It should model democratic practices that involve all who are directly affected by the school. The school should honor diversity and build on the strength of its communities, deliberately and explicitly challenging all forms of inequity.
Why the Essential Schools chose the Exhibition
The exhibition creates process-folio chronicles of the student’s work and the exhibition. This piece is an integral part of the learning process. The exhibition process-folio represents an effort to capture the steps and phases through which students pass in the course of developing a project. A complete student process-folio contains initial moments when ideas jelled; a collection of works by others that proved influential or suggestive; interim and final drafts; self-critiques and critiques by peers, informed mentors, and outside experts; and finally some suggestion of how one might build upon the current project in future endeavors. Students also present an accurate and properly formatted bibliography (Exhibitions, 2007).
The exhibition allows students to work with a variety of subjects and topics that include poetry, painting, art, photography, and many others where the students can display their creativity and skills. Sedona hosts a number of exhibitions by different artists many of them working as a full-time professional artists. The exhibition provides a chance for the students to have their works judged by eminent artists, poets, and other members of the jury. The photography exhibition that is conducted by the school is highly regarded by the media. Sedona Red Rock High School’s photo club, otherwise known as the F/Stop Society has teamed up with Los Abrigados Resort and Spa for an exhibition and collaboration titled, “Park Inspirations.” F/Stop Society members were inspired to take artistic photos on the grounds of Los Abrigados Resort & Spa and the adjacent First Piggy Park. The photos are a fresh expression of the diversity and beauty of the park and the exhibition features a silent auction of over 30 matted 5×7 and 8×10 photographs. Money raised from the sale of the art is donated for a trip to the National Scholastics Press Association Spring National High School Convention in Anaheim, California. The exhibition provides parents, visitors, and teachers a great first look at the creative work of the high school students and helps students to make a career as professional photographers (F/Stop, Society. 2008).
According to school authorities (Exhibitions. 2007), one of the major reasons why the essential schools from the CSE have selected the exhibition is that the current educational system has many issues that have never been addressed in the curriculum. The existing curriculum is designed to test students who can get away by rote learning and memorizing answers to problems. Some students who may come from different ethnic backgrounds and social statuses find it difficult to learn and understand the curriculum and some of them do not even know a word of English. It is not possible to change the curriculum to suit such students and consequently students from origins such as Mexican, African American, and others find it difficult to achieve recognition. The exhibition on the other hand provides a uniform field and allows students to research and come up with their own themes and interpretations. The schools have realized that participating in the exhibition allows students from less privileged backgrounds to show their worth. The exhibition also allows the students a way to express their creativity and lateral thinking that goes beyond rote and bookish learning.
What are the Exhibitions about
The students have in the past produced a series of thought-evoking works, between the Linear, about the journey of the timeless heart as accessed through meditation, breath, and nature. They speak to alternate levels of our consciousness about the human experience, both outward and inward. One of the artists says “I access visual art through movement, sound, music, and writing. I seek to invite you inside yourself, by choosing imagery that is representative of the human brain as well as a deeper place of comprehension. “Throughout the process, Becker is observing what is emerging, instead of striving to execute a preconceived vision. Ultimately a message calls forth. The wood surface is complemented by painting, drawing, collage, texture, and words until the work is complete. Though the work contains some abstract, her exquisite figurative skills are much in evidence. The titling and story that comes along with the vision is an integral part of the work, seeking yet another place of listening inside the observer. Her new large-format hand-crafted book Nothing is Better Than Anything which includes a combination of photo-painting, and poetry”. (SSRHS, 2006)
The exhibitions help to develop and implement a curriculum design that identifies the learner outcomes and a means of assessing and monitoring the achievement of those outcomes. The goals of the exhibition are to graduate students who are powerful learners and who are able to use their minds well. The exhibition allows the students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do. In addition, the exhibition helps to develop and implement staff goals setting, mentoring, and other activities that will help the students to increase their learning. The magnificent red rocks of Sedona have inspired some to see enchanting visions of fantasy and others to seek spiritual solace. Sedona’s beauty has reached out to many creative souls. Many movies have been made here, books have been written about its charms, dramatic photographs have found their way into beautiful coffee table books, and artists have been drawn here in numbers to form what has become a thriving art colony in the midst of the red cliffs and fragrant pine trees of the Coconino National Forest. Sedona has over fifty art galleries and plans are underway to build a 60,000 square-foot network of artist’s studios in the nearby village of Oak Creek (Report Card, 2005).
King (2007) has written extensively about what the exhibitions mean to the students and how they help to bring out the shy and reticent students forward. The author has outlined three new student initiatives: Personalized Learning Plans that will prepare students from the seventh grade and up for college entrance or the job market; Laptop Pilot Program so teachers can better prepare students for the digital economy where every student owns a laptop; and International Schools that will begin teaching students a language in kindergarten, and a second language in ninth grade, combined with international studies and exchange programs.
Acknowledging that funding was a major drawback, the author has stressed that the students consider the senior exhibition project to be one of the most valuable of their high school education; especially among the majority of students who go on to higher education. But educational opportunities are not just limited to students who will go on to college. The focus of the talented and gifted program is shifted to advanced math and science studies. There are already advanced classes in literature and history. The exhibition on advanced math and science help to channel into pre-engineering, pre-medicine, and pre-architecture studies in the upper grades. The exhibition also allows students who directly wish to join the workforce and take up a career in their chosen fields of interest.
About CES. August 20, 2006. The CES Common Principles. Web.
Exhibitions. 2007. Sedona Red Rock High School. Web.
F/Stop Society. 2008. Sedona Red Rock High School photography exhibit on Dec 20 at Los Abrigados. Web.
Hirsch Lisa. 2007. Closing the Gaps of No Child Left Behind: The Assessment Debate for Essential Schools. Web.
King Marie. 2007. Sedona Transitions: Putting Your Vision into Words. Web.
Report Card. 2005. Sedona Red Rock High School Report Card. Web.
Sedona Arts Festival. 2008. General Information about the Sedona Exhibition. Web.
SSRHS. 2006. A Practice of Contemplative Creativity. Web.