Fifteen-year-old Kamiyah Fletcher dreams of becoming a chef one day. Her dreams, up until this point, were all in theory with not much practice.
But at Vaux Big Picture High School, Fletcher has the chance to change that.
The high school uses an innovative model called project-based learning (PBL), in which students go out into the community and learn from professionals hands-on. It’s a growing method that schools throughout the nation are employing to increase aptitude and exposure in various areas.
It gives students like Fletcher, who is a sophomore, the opportunity to discover new career paths first-hand.
“Being involved is better,” Fletcher said, “being able to learn more than textbooks have to offer.”
Through Vaux Big Picture High School, Fletcher received an internship at WILL BYOB, a cafe in South Philadelphia. The experience helped her develop a lot of connections, and has led her to be more involved in the community.
“It really opens my eyes to a lot of things,” Fletcher said.
She used the confidence and connections built during the internship to organize a 3-on-3 basketball tournament to raise money for her school.
David Bromley, director of Vaux Big Picture High School, said even though this education model is different from a traditional classroom, PBL is how people learned in the beginning of time.
“If you think about it, people used to only learn by doing,” Bromley said.
Before there were classrooms and schools, people learned through apprenticeship.
In fact, the traditional classroom setting was a student being guided by his/her mentor. This is the base of PBL. It gives students many avenues to reach their dreams.
But the unique model of learning also comes with its own challenges.
PBL requires many resources, involves building community connections, and looks different for every student, making it more difficult to ensure a quality education for all.
It’s a slow process, according to Brandon Witcher, an adviser at Vaux Big Picture High School.
Learning in this way requires students to have a certain level of maturity. They have to adjust to the idea of learning without walls.
Teachers, on the other hand, have to manage much more, since each individual student has their own project and a different set of skills they need to be taught.
Witcher, who has been involved in education for 10 years, said PBL can offer a lot of opportunities, but it all starts with the student.
“They need to learn about time management and how to be productive when there’s not someone breathing down your neck,” he said.
If they do that, PBL can give students a very different educational experience, Witcher said. It can expose them to the community and give them an understanding of the “real world.”
While it’s still early to say if this model will catch on, Witcher, Bromley, and others at Vaux Big Picture High School believe it has great potential.
Who knows what the classroom of the future will look like.