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iLEAD Agua Dulce Launches New, Learner-Centered High School

iLEAD Agua Dulce HS

What happens when a successful and innovative TK-8 school has learners that want to continue their same unique experience after 8th grade? Well, start a new high school of course. That’s just what iLEAD Agua Dulce is doing.

Known for many things including play-based learning, outdoor classrooms, school wide projects and amazing project-based learning experiences at each grade level, iLEAD Agua Dulce now has a new 9th grade cohort this fall.

iLEAD Agua Dulce Director Lisa Latimer is overseeing the new high school program, while iLEAD Leadership Resident Dr. Armine Movsisyan is innovating the way. Starting with fifteen 9th graders, most of whom came from the Agua Dulce 8th grade class of 2021, both Latimer and Movsisyan are excited about collaborating with the learners on envisioning a unique and personalized high school learning environment.

Latimer has high expectations and is overwhelmed with enthusiasm about all of the possibilities.

“These 9th grade learners are amazing and we are excited to see what their ideas are,” said Latimer. “They are creating and building the school and program.”

Being learner-centered and learner-driven is almost an understatement based on the approach that Latimer and Movsisyan are taking. Movsisyan said they began surveying the 8th graders last year about what their perfect high school could look like and have already begun to respond to the learners’ requests.

“They requested their own outdoor and indoor spaces, their own kitchen and studio access as well,” said Movsisyan. “It’s already a great and unique space and they’re just getting started.”

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for both the learners and the facilitators/leaders, according to Movsisyan.

“We are most excited that we have the space – physically and academically – to have pure imagination,” said Movsisyan. “We are going to continue the amazing legacy of iLEAD and Agua Dulce while the learners and staff co-design a unique high school experience rooted in voice and choice.”

The project-based learning is already underway and is being used to continually reimagine what high school can and could be, according to Latimer. She said this includes the designing of their CTE and IB Entrepreneurship Pathway. This pathway will be underway this year and beyond with projects such as a honey bee farm, a chicken coop and egg production, goats and goat milk products, a farmers’ market and farm-to-table approaches, as well as taking full advantage of the Makery and Exploratorium. Additionally, Latimer said that learners don’t have to limit themselves to agribusiness projects in terms of their entrepreneurial pursuits. She said they can create business plans and launch businesses focused on any area of interest.

“This is not about waiting until after graduation to start one’s life. They can start now,” said Latimer. “I’d love to see all of them be leaders in our community and be able to start their own businesses and companies.”

Movsisyan is hitting the ground running as well with their inaugural project. The learners’ driving question is “How can I use my high school experience so that I can ‘show up’ in life and community now and after school?” Public products include, but are not limited to the indoor and outdoor environments, a founder wall, a time capsule, developing traditions and milestones, public documentation of creating their high school, writing and portfolio work, public displays and their Agri-business ideation.

The learners are equally as enthusiastic about co-designing this exciting new high school. New iLEAD Agua Dulce High School Freshman Conor Kai said he chose the new high school because his experience with iLEAD has been like no other school he’s experienced.

“It’s accepting and different. I learn a lot more than I would normally,” said Kai. “The iLEAD Agua Dulce HS has been wonderful so far even though it’s only been a week.”

Nicolas Vance, another new freshman at iLEAD Agua Dulce High School, said the small, close knit community offers a lot of support. But he is equally excited about the academic program being created as well.

“I am really excited about how we are going to approach all subjects, but especially science and math,” said Vance.

In addition to the enthusiastic learners and staff, the community is already responding as well, according to Latimer. She said a parent recently donated the complete stock of a hardware store.

“It looks like a home depot on campus,” said Latimer. “The learners have all of the tools and supplies they need in order to launch many of their business ideas.”

Latimer said that they will meet WASC and other high school expectations while creating a very learner-centered environment where learners will have countless opportunities to pursue passions, connect to professionals and community, as well create portfolio pieces.

“There is structure, but lots of individual choice,” said Latimer. “Learners will get regular feedback and reflection opportunities. It will be about grows and glows.”

In addition to Movsisyan, learners will be supported by a host of iLEAD subject area experts including iLEAD Director of Math Amber Soto, iLEAD Director of STEAM Initiatives Kathleen Fredette and Director of Humanities and Innovation Angie Nastovska.

In the end, Latimer and Movsisyan said the mission is for all of the learners to become a continually active member of their respective communities and not merely be passive consumers. Movsisyan sums up the culture being created at the new Agua Dulce High School.

“We get to dream and so do the learners,” said Movsisyan. “And they not only can dream, they can make those dreams come to fruition.”

For more information on iLEAD Agua Dulce High School, please contact Armine Movsisyan at Armine.Movsisyan@ileadaguadulce.org or Lisa Latimer at Lisa.Latimer@ileadaguadulce.org. Be sure to visit the iLEAD Agua Dulce High School Website as well.

Posted on August 25, 2021 in iLEAD Digest

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About the Author

Michael Niehoff is an educator, leader, writer and learner advocate.
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