St. Paul’s Open World Learning Center: An innovative case study

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Getting on the High Impact Learning Practices train is imperative to success. Here’s the proof.

The Open World Learning Center (OWL) in St. Paul is based on the Expeditionary Learning model, which deploys an interesting mix of education policies that have proved to be good for students. These policies includes diversity of information and learning practices, discussion-based education, and learning by serving the community, among many other practices. The school mission statement “promotes rigorous and engaging curriculum; active, inquiry-based pedagogy; and a school culture that demands and teaches compassion and good citizenship.”

This model has, thus far, had some success as the 2012-13 graduation report lists out 100% of students at the Open World Learning Center either graduated or are continuing their education to earn their G.E.D.

The school has achieved its success in large part by using a group of high-impact learning practices more commonly found in higher education, as discussed in a previous blog post, at the K-12 level. For example, OWL’s program makes heavy use of service learning opportunities and self-directed learning.

As part of the Saint Paul Public School system, Open World Learning Center shows that this model can thrive in the public setting and proves that private schools are not the only ones capable of enacting this model. What this does require is a comprehensive system that trusts teachers and students more than tests.

While the OWL model cannot be replicated cookie cutter (just as no other single model should), these teaching practices and teacher support have great potential for public schools throughout Minnesota.

The particular application of the Expeditionary Learning model has proven to be a greatly positive set of policies for both students and educators. Professional development for teachers is a key pillar of this system and provides both a support system for teachers and active encouragement to innovate practices to best serve students.

Many aspects of High Impact Learning Practices are represented in the Open World Learning Center. However, less tangible than any of these practices is the most important aspect: innovation.

Innovation is the key to ensuring further educational excellence. This innovation is not limited to teaching methods but can be embodied in funding allocations, student distribution and skill assessment. That a district school has been successfully leading in this area for over 40 years is proof of the importance of strong public school that empower teachers, students and parents. OWL’S innovative work is a mark that public schools have and will continue to thrive and is inspiration to educational innovators everywhere.