School can be More!

I am the Founding President & CEO of The Biome, but more than that, I am a former student of an academic program that, by virtue of its design, stood no chance of meeting my needs as a learner. My journey to lead Youth Learning Center’s efforts to open The Biome did not start 11 years ago at the organization’s founding. My genesis began a few decades prior, in a local public school in St. Louis, Missouri.

For dramatic effect, let’s imagine that my fourth-grade learner profile was as follows:

Bill is a fourth-grade student who has special interests and abilities (every child’s profile should begin with this opening line). He seems to enjoy learning through hands-on activities and has a particular interest in computer science, experiments, insects, and writing. Bill also appears to be interested in fishing and history!

During my fourth-grade year, I was appointed to the project team tasked with building an enormous paper mache replica of Valley Forge. This assignment represented a perfect fit for a student with my profile. We were excused from our regular reading period to take in the project that would be displayed during a school assembly. Our supplies consisted of an enormous cardboard base, plenty of flour, water, newspaper, and paint.

It would have been great if my selection were guided by a careful examination of my interest and needs as a learner. I suspect that my appointment to the project team was a result of my designation as one of the “smart kids” in the building. I would like to recount numerous appointments to projects during my elementary years but sadly, I cannot.

I can, however, recount numerous learning opportunities that were missed as I sat quietly in my seat and received a reward for compliance.

I believe that school can be more than textbooks, assigned seating, and lectures. School should be a ‘living lab’ where best practices and innovation converge to meet the needs of students. Launching The Biome provides me with an opportunity to create the educational ecosystem that was unavailable to me and hundreds of my peers. Every child has unique gifts and talents. Our (parents, educators and community) goal is to help children identify their uniqueness and provide authentic and enriching experiences designed to aid their growth as learners.

According to a 2014 Washington Post article, in 2012, the U.S. high school graduation rate peaked at 80 percent. Nationally, Blacks and Hispanics graduated at rates of 69 percent and 73 percent respectively.[1] These statistics do not address the disparity in achievement standards and college or career readiness, but we will save that discussion for a future post. At best, a 20 percent national dropout rate is alarming. The percentage dropout rate represents approximately 718,000 children.1 Continuing with our current model of education makes sense if the goal is to achieve relatively modest results. Opting for radical changes in educational outcomes requires that we embrace radical changes in our educational model. Through the adoption or creation of innovative policy and practice, we can turn our nation’s academic fortunes.

At The Biome, we are committed to sound practice, innovation and measuring the results of our children’s performance and our academic model. The Biome represents another step in a growing belief that schools can and should be designed for all of our children.

By the way, we were not allowed to finish the paper mache project.


[1] Layton, L. (2014, April 28). National high school graduation rates at historic high, but disparities still exist. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from