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US school sans teachers, tests

It sounds like a student’s dream school — no teachers, no homework, no weekly tests and no grades. At the Lafayette Big Picture High School, students get to design their own learning plan.

education Updated: Dec 18, 2008 18:15 IST

It sounds like a student’s dream school — no teachers, no homework, no weekly tests and no grades. At the Lafayette Big Picture High School, students get to design their own learning plan, set their own goals and spend two days a week away from school. But far from a fantasy, the school is designed to better prepare kids on the edge for the real world.

“My friends hear that stuff and think we have it easy here,” said 15-year-old fresher Katelin Reusswig. “I tell them I’ve never worked as hard. It’s just different when you’re learning about something you’re actually interested in and care about.” This small farming community in New York is one of more than 60 nationwide to experiment with the Big Picture approach over the past decade but among the first rural districts to try it. The schools emphasise work in the real world — internships, portfolios, oral presentations and intense relationships between students and mentors. At Lafayette, one instructor — called an adviser instead of a teacher — handles all the lessons and stays with the same class for four years. Graduates are expected to apply and be accepted into at least one college, even if they choose not to go.

“This programme is about helping a kid find their passion,” said Leonardo Oppedisano — ‘Mr O’ to students — an ex-Science teacher who is now adviser to the first ninth-grade class. “I am not a vessel with information trying to impart it all on them. I am advising them on the path that they should take toward learning. It is much more a cooperative relationship.”