Monday, March 1, 2010

One Student At A Time

Last week I spent 2 full days in Sacramento visiting The Met Sac, a dependent charter high school (with 230 students) within the Sacramento City Unified School District (50,000 students). The principal at this school said the district calls The Met Sac “the feather in its cap.” And, after visiting the school for 2 days, I can see why the district is proud of it.

The main thing I liked about this unique high school was the internships all the students are required to do. They spend roughly half their time working at jobs around the city and they write and present projects based on their internships. While I was there I visited students at their internships at the following places: a photography studio, a Latin art store/gallery, a lawyer’s office, a city councilmen’s office, an auto mechanic shop and a tea shop all in downtown Sacramento.

Students are at their internships every Tuesday and Thursday all day. Monday, Wednesday and Friday they are at school attending their academic classes – English, history, math, Spanish and science. Many of their academic classes are taught in a semi-traditional way that included student discussions, individual work and small group projects. And yes, they have homework, but every student I talked with about homework said it was reasonable and they get enough time during the day to get most of their work done.

The students are matched with an Advisor (teacher) who stays with them their whole 4 years. Yes, they stay with their same Advisor and classmates from grade 9 to grade 12. Class sizes were about 15-20. This reminded me of the Waldorf approach.

Most of these kids were from downtown Sacramento. Many were underprivileged and from broken homes. The main thing that impressed me about all of the kids I talked to was how articulate, focused, poised and inspired they were in their attitudes about school and about their internships.

As I talked to the staff and students I wondered if our high schools here in the East Bay could implement some type of internship program as well for all of our high school students. Can this be done on a larger scale? I hope so because I’m a firm believer in making the high school experience as real to the real world as possible for all students.

And it appears that these Big Picture Schools are on the President’s radar, as well. Today I got this encouraging email from the LTI (Learning Through Internship) Coordinator at the Met Sac:

On Monday March 1, 2010 President Barack Obama addressed the U.S. Chamber Of Commerce on the topic of education. He discussed the high numbers of high school students in the United States who drop out and do not earn a diploma. He then highlighted innovative high schools that have been effective at reversing this trend and empowering students to excel.

President Obama specifically highlighted the Met High School in Providence, RI as an example of the type of innovative and revolutionary school that has been very successful.

"That's why we'll follow the example of places like the Met Center in Rhode Island that give students that individual attention, while also preparing them through real-world, hands-on training the possibility of succeeding in a career.”

The Met Sacramento High School is a part of the Big Picture Learning Network, modeled on The Met in Providence, RI. The Met’s approach is to work with “One Student at a Time;” students and families work closely with their advisor to create individualized learning plans. Students pursue their passions through internships and gain handson experience by engaging in realworld learning. Met Sac students have the opportunity to take classes at Sacramento City College through a unique early college high school dualenrollment program supported by the Foundation for California Community Colleges. Students connect with staff through an advisory program and develop lasting relationships with classmates. In addition to the School Advisory Board, parents/guardians attend student exhibition presentations to discuss progress and future goals.

It wasn't a perfect school and I didn't like everything I saw, but it left a big impression and gave me lots of good ideas. One thing I really liked about the staff was their philosophy that they are constantly tweaking what they do at the school to try to improve it. They are fine with encountering failures along the way because they know that errors lead to success. A computer in one of the rooms at the school had a sticker on it that read, “Fail to Succeed!”

What will I do with this information? Possibly explore the idea of starting a charter school that uses internships if I can get the right team with similar goals to work with me. Anyone interested in talking to me about this possibility? If so, please email me:


  1. I love this idea. I wish this school existed in this area. I am reading the book, Light Up Your Child's Mind by Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis. It addresses this very subject how every child has unique talents and strengths and ways it can be cultivated and how not every child does well in traditional educational settings. It's based on 30 years of research. It's a good read...... Lorrie in Walnut Creek

  2. I like this idea very much. I would, at the very least, like to see this happen for our high school Seniors. What better way to prepare them for the independence of college while exploring their career goals! I would want to see the internship requirements reflect the need for improved writing/general Language Arts skills. 60 % of students who enter 4 year college need remediation in this area! Need help, I'm in!

    Stacy Kadesh
    Stacy Kadesh College Consulting

  3. great approach to learning. i always felt my greatest intellectual absorbtion came field work and hands on experience. are there any examples of internship disciplines in latin american colegios?

    andy pruter
    costa rica