After our most recent accreditation process (AdvancED), our district was challenged to ensure that students have an adult advocate other than their teachers during their time at school. A team of faculty, students, and parents traveled to Stanford University to participate in a program called Challenge Success. The conference prompted thinking that would ultimately lead to Patriot Path because we wanted to find ways to support our students and help them avoid the damaging effects of academic stress. One study that contributed to Stanford’s research showed that when students perceive their teachers as caring and respectful, they participate more in class, complete more of their homework, and cheat less often. Patriot Path is an opportunity for our students who take multiple AP-level classes to de-stress. Our struggling students also benefit from Patriot Path because they can step away from the stresses of class as well.
We knew the best fit for Bob Jones was to create an opportunity for our faculty to provide input as the new initiative was developed. Teacher buy-in was essential for the success of the program. James Comer says, "No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." For some teachers, relating to students on a more candid level is quite natural, but for others, it is not. We decided that giving students and teachers opportunities to connect within the school day, yet outside of the structure of the classroom would be very beneficial. We studied our options and considered as many possible scenarios we could imagine related to logistics. Supervisory and accountability measures are our first concern. We spent a significant amount of time working with our faculty emphasizing the positive role that relationship building has on learning. During our embedded professional development time each month, learning protocols were used so our teachers could explore options for the development of Patriot Path.
We conducted a beta test for Patriot Path for two years on the day our juniors take the ACT by organizing an Enrichment Day for our freshmen, sophomores, and seniors. Teachers collaborated or worked individually to design an activity related to their field of study or a hobby. They could also work with a community resource or agency and give students the option of community service. We were surprised by the variety of options our teachers offered! One of our teachers taught a hand and arm knitting class that morning while another teacher gave students the opportunity to pack care kits that are sent home with adopted pets from a local shelter. Some students met to study for their upcoming Advance Placement exams. The idea behind these sessions was to create opportunities for our students to develop relationships with our faculty and other students around a low-stress common purpose.
Patriot Path was initiated in early August of the 2016-17 school year and is held every Wednesday from 1:07-2:02. This is a time for students and teachers to de-stress, and it allows for many student-to-student, student-to-faculty, and student-to-community connections to occur. Hopefully, some global connections can be established as well. Students can choose the path/session they want from multiple options offered each week. Some sessions will continually be offered weekly and others will come and go; however, each week a new session is presented for students to choose from. Whether the students are leading sessions or are choosing sessions of interest, there is much excitement surrounding Patriot Path. The opportunities are endless as we bring students, faculty, and community together through a wide variety of activities that foster relationship building, creativity, communication skills, and so much more. We know this is a positive experience for our students based on their feedback; however, research conducted supports what we hope to achieve as well. One study showed that students who participated in student-centered learning/play had higher self esteems and lower anxiety than their peers who were not able to exert their locus of control with regard to choices about learning activities (Post, 1999).
Patriot Path has impacted the culture of Bob Jones High School in numerous positive ways. Last year, detention was held each afternoon after school. Since incorporating Patriot Path, our detention is held as one of the sessions. The number of students who have to serve detention has shrunk dramatically because students do not want to miss out on the opportunity to collaborate, play, or participate in a session. In the 2015-16 school year, an average of 15 students attended detention each day. This year our Patriot Path session for detention has only had about twenty students in attendance each week. Students do not want to miss out on the activities planned for Patriot Path, so they make good behavior a priority to avoid the consequence. While discipline referrals have decreased, attendance has increased. Comparing dates for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, attendance has improved by one half of a percent. Based on last year’s overall records, discipline referrals, in general, have decreased since Patriot Path has been initiated. Our student body president said, “You just get a break from all the hard rigor and all the hard work we do here at school."
Another highlight of the initiative is that several students have felt passionate about a topic, talent, or issue, and have asked to lead sessions. School leaders and Patriot Path planners hoped students would eventually lead sessions they created, but a group of students came forward and asked to lead a session about organizing a male vocal ensemble during the first week of implementation. Since that time, the number of student-led sessions has grown. Two things, in particular, stand out; students felt empowered from the orientation they received that they could lead a session, and they used collaboration, creativity, time management, and communication. These are all real-world soft skills essential for success in the classroom as well as in the workforce, and students are applying them during Patriot Path!
Students at Bob Jones High School have been exposed to guest speakers and ideas and concepts through Patriot Path they would not normally encounter. We are fortunate to have the support of a diverse community who is willing to share its talents and experiences with our students. Guest presenters have included a human resource manager who shared tips and suggestions on building strong resumes and job skills, a NASA employee spoke about his work on the Space Launch System that will enable the Mars mission in the not-so-distant future. He inspired students to consider how they might use their unique talents to serve in this endeavor because he said a project of this magnitude will need artists, writers, accountants, and managers, not just engineers and science-related thinkers. One of our recent graduates spoke about her experience in developing a non-profit during high school. Many other community volunteers have come alongside our school faculty to support sessions. For example, several knitters have joined with students to share their expertise.
Our primary focus in the creation and implementation of this initiative has been to develop relationships between students and faculty. That goal has been achieved. Our school registrar is an avid knitter. She has instructed a group of students in beginning skills, and the students now serve as small group instructors for other beginners. Students drop by Mrs. Barry’s office to talk knitting regularly. Coach Reynolds has made himself available to supervise students who want to learn how to create memes. As our varsity girls basketball coach, it might not be expected that Mr. Reynolds would find much in common with techy meme creators. Mr. Elwell has offered a session about the business side of sports. Thomas, a sophomore, says, “This is a subject I'm very interested in, but it's not offered as a class. I hope to learn more about it during Patriot Path.” One of our students moved to our school last year and had some significant problems adjusting to her new school setting. She struggled academically and socially. It came to one of her teacher’s attention that she possessed the ability to hula dance. Collette worked up enough nerve, with the support of Mrs. Summers, to share her talent and teach others about this beautiful native dance. It has been amazing to see Collette in the days since she began leading the Patriot Path session. She has increased confidence and her self esteem has improved dramatically.
There are several more accounts similar to these, and our school leadership looks forward to all the positive ways Patriot Path will continue to improve the academic and social lives of the students at Bob Jones High School in the future. The positive impact is not only observed in our students. Faculty members have embraced Patriot Path with great enthusiasm. Mrs. Panagos leads trivia sessions, Mrs. Gaines leads nail art sessions, Coach Rogers leads 3-on-3 basketball tournaments, and Mrs. Hadden opens her classroom to chess players. Our world language teachers offer opportunities for students to practice conversation while some of our science teachers open the labs to students to try experiments that extend concepts they learn in the classroom.
Patriot Path has incredible potential to impact the instruction at Bob Jones in ways we can not yet measure. We look forward to the future and how inquiry/student lead-learning will become the norm in classrooms of all contents.
CONNECT Student to Student
CONNECT Student to Faculty
CONNECT Student to Community