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By Dr. Stuart Grauer, in collaboration with the entire faculty of The Grauer School

"Ever since I have been at The Grauer School, there has been a place for my voice."
—Divvya B, Class of 2018

Parent Question: "My child is a senior now and she has become so articulate and clear in her values that I am amazed. I often wonder if this is the result of the school's programs and intentions, or did my child just grow up that way?"

Grauer 11th grade student Gabby, speaking about Jimmie Lee Jackson in her "Voices for Social Justice" project honoring important figures from the Civil Rights movement - May 2, 2018

How can a school foster and develop student "voice" and confidence?

When you meet a student who speaks with confidence and positivity, that's normally the result of not just nature but of nurture—an intentional environment. The Grauer School was founded with the expressed, fundamental purpose of giving students VOICE. Here are some of the programs, each one requiring years of refinement, that enable and encourage students to gain a confident voice (the list is in no particular order):

1. Mastery Learning: Students set their own minimum grades, and are accountable for achieving the goals they set for themselves—if you exceed your own goals, we trust that.

2. Expeditions: Our twice-a-year trips all over the world teach and encourage independence and cultivate an understanding that students are an engaged part of a global community. These are immersions, not tourist trips, and students pick where they will go. We even invite students and teachers to propose and develop trips.

3. Socratic Method and Harkness Tables: Our seminars put students eye to eye with teachers, in deep conversations through their entire course of study at The Grauer School.

4. No class ranks or AP exams: We keep the focus on developing individual strengths and values. Rather than select a valedictorian award to the highest GPA student, Grauer awards the annual "Resourcefulness Award" as the highest student award. My collaborator and proof-reader for this column, Tricia Valeski, has four children. How about if I asked her to rank them? Parents: Do you rank your kids? Crazy. But they wonderfully distinguish themselves through their unique voices.

Grauer 11th grade student Will, showing the 3-d resin artwork he created to represent segregation for his "Voices for Social Justice" presentation - May 2, 2018

5. Honors options: Students petition to take courses for honors credit. They create their own honors options, and work with teachers personally to develop extra work or projects that reflect their passions—that's honorable!

6. Student proposal process: Students and teachers petition for clubs, new courses, trips, activities—they are not prescribed. A successful, reasonable, articulate proposal will get you anything you want at Grauer. Students become entrepreneurial. Clubs and events are student organized and directed.

7. Evaluation ("Evals"): It's not sufficient to be simply evaluated/graded on test and homework scores. Our students are evaluated on their perceived demonstration of our core values including perseverance, intrinsic motivation and resourcefulness. They even give themselves a grade to compare with the teacher's grade.

8. Admissions process: Families are asked on the application form what they value more: high scores/college ranks or moral development and personal creativity. Guess which we prioritize?

9. Teacher development: Hiring, training, professional development, evaluation, and retention practices identify and honor humble and Socratic teachers. Our teachers demonstrate deep listening—nothing is more important than this in the development of student voice.

10. Portfolios: At the conclusion of every term, through portfolio development, each student expresses learning in a way that reflects their personal communication style.

11. Senior Graduation Defense: Graduating seniors present their achievement of the school's values through a capstone public presentation. Even our middle school students present their accomplishments to a panel of teachers prior to eighth grade graduation.

12. Head of School's Weekly Column: "Fearless Teaching" provides empowering research and encouragement to parents and educators around the world so that they have the rationale they need to honor individual voices and the development of universal values.

13. Research and Evaluation: Grauer's research team conducts and shares ongoing research on small schools and educational design. Grauer teachers model emerging technologies that honor the development of individual learning styles. We conduct qualitative and quantitative research on how to create the conditions for student voice.

14. Focus on arts and nature across the curriculum: We know that integrating arts and nature in elementary school makes it a safe and holistic learning experience for students. So why do educators throw out what we know is best about education as soon as our students get to secondary school! We don't. Let's insist on creating conditions where all kinds of learners can gain in confidence and creativity—not just those who can sit in chairs for six hours a day.

Grauer 11th grade student Rhian, singing an original song she wrote to honor Juliette Hampton Morgan during her "Voices of Social Justice" presentation - May 2, 2018

15. Student-led parent teacher conferences: Students facilitate their own conferences with parents and teachers to discuss their progress academically and in demonstrating core values at the end of each semester.

16. Philosophy of Art: Grauer's tireless depiction of education as fine art creates a platform for student creativity and personal expression.

That's just a jump start. Can you think of more? ...

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