Youth Initiative High School is a great story and provides us with a look at what’s possible when students take education into their own hands. In their own words, from the YIHS Web site:
“The school was established in 1996 when a group of high school students decided to take responsibility for their education. Today, YIHS continues to emphasize the development of responsibility, initiative, and citizenship in all aspects of school life. Students are full voting members of the school community, serving alongside parents and faculty on the Board of Directors and on many other committees. YIHS students also take responsibility for raising a significant part of the school’s annual budget through a variety of independent fundraising activities. They are also responsible for cleaning and maintaining the school’s facilities.
Student Involvement in Governing
o Students are responsible for raising about 15% of the annual budget
o The students participate as full partners in the governance of the school
o Students currently serving on the Board of Trustees: 4
o Students currently serving on the Personnel Committee: 3
o Students currently serving on the Administration Group: 3
o Open committees such as the Long Range Planning Committee and the Curriculum Committee are frequently graced with the presence of students
o Meetings of the whole student body are held weekly. The students discuss matters of concern from fundraising to the future of the school
Although the idea for a high school had been talked about in the community, it was a small group of students from local public and parochial schools that started the initiative to create a new school. What bound these students together was a pervasive dissatisfaction with the education they were experiencing in their existing high schools. They also shared a desire for a school that would be academically challenging, respectful of individual freedom, and rooted in a meaningful sense of community and shared responsibility.
What began as conversations among friends in school cafeterias, at parties, and over the phone, soon grew to include parents and other members of the adult community. By midsummer of 1996, the group interested in the project had grown significantly, attracting new students, parents, and potential teachers who were excited by the initiative. Community booster Nancy Rhodes bought the former Viroqua Middle School (renamed the Landmark Center) and the still unnamed Youth Initiative High School began in September of 1996.
With only 11 students in 1996, the Youth Initiative High School today has an enrollment of over 50 students in grades 9-12. YIHS is an independent high school and does not receive funds from federal, state or local government. Tuition at YIHS is arranged on a flexible basis in order to enable students from families of all income levels to participate in the school, with several students each year working to pay their own tuition. YIHS has been recognized as a Waldorf initiative by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America and its graduate have been accepted to colleges and universities throughout the US and overseas.
Faculty, students and families are partners in learning; exhibiting mutual respect, shared joy in learning, cooperation and caring. We facilitate individual student talents and personal growth, their imagination and passion and their love of the arts. Our rich and challenging course of study integrates academics, the arts, physical and practical life skills. Our small school community encourages students to become all their individual destinies call them to be.”
Isn’t this the type of “ownership” of learning that we want our students to exhibit? These are not students “playing school” or wandering from class to class in various states of catatonia. These are students showing the fire and passion for learning we all seek.
There are vast untapped resevoirs of energy and idealism in our students. They are the “solar energy” of our schools. When we help them awaken and get out of their way; to become their partners, not their keepers; we will finally be on the path to the “golden age of education” that awaits us.
“The child is father to the man.
How can he be? The words are wild.”
-Gerard Manley Hopkins