Building 21 is a new high school in the district and it’s raising the bar in how education is taught in schools.
Building 21, which is located at 2000 N. 7th St., was started by three classmates in the Harvard Doctorate of Education Leadership Program. Originally the product of their collaboration on a new school design assignment in Professor Richard Elmore’s “Leaders of Learning” course in February of 2012, the concept for Building 21 evolved through a series of meetings, discussions, site visits and learning tours across the country. The school’s name is derived from the famous Building 20 at M.I.T.
“I’ve always been trying to crack the code on how do you create a school that is really engaging for young people and really rigorous, so that they learn both skills and the tools that will have them succeed in life,” said co-founder of Building 21 Laura Shubilla. “I met Chip [Linehan], who is the other co-founder of Building 21, and we connected through this doctoral program in Harvard. We used that time to build Building 21, which we launched last fall.
“Our goal has remained constant since that first day,” she added. “We wanted to develop a new secondary school design that adapts to meet learners where they are, and then helps them to pursue their interests and passions on a pathway to college and career success.”
One of the things that makes Building 21 unique is the personalized learning for students. The school has four ways it personalizes learning, which include learning through relationships, the competency based progression system, blended learning and workshops.
“Our personalized learning for the students is what makes Building 21 unique,” said Principal Tara Ranzy. “Relationships are key to any educational experience, especially in high school because those relationships will help students achieve their dreams and help them get to where they want to go.
“Our competency based progression system is very new,” she added. “We’re trying to show our students what they need to [do] in order for them to graduate and help them be able to achieve this through their own pace. Through the blended learning, we’re able to hone students’ skills in technology. Through the workshops, we’re targeting key areas where students may struggle, but we’re also enhancing students in those same areas who are doing really well. Building 21 is really giving students a chance to be a part of their educational experience. We’re changing the way education is — one student at a time.”
Students create their own self-paced learning pathways and choose from a variety of instructional opportunities, including blended learning, problem-based learning and experiential learning.
“One of the biggest ways students can create their own learning experience is through the choice studio,” said English and choice studio teacher Thomas Emerson. “The kids come in and pick an area in which they are interested. Some of the kids picked cosmetology, fashion and web design.
“The students start out by designing a proposal for the class,” he added. “We structured the proposal so it met all of the standards for argumentative writing. The students are proposing their projects, but also getting credit for an English paper. After that, they get to design their projects by actually leaving the building and connecting with people in a career that they are interested in. The choice studio is a good opportunity for the kids to explore their passion.”
Traditional courses are re-organized into “studios” that are based on fields of study, such as journalism, environmental science and finance. In studios, students have the opportunity to integrate content and apply their skills and knowledge to solve real-world problems.
“My favorite studio so far is my personal finance class,” said freshman Jakiyah Gladden. “I’ve learned more about interest, credit cards, payment of bills and savings. This is a really good school. Building 21 allows you to be yourself as well as let you explore your interests and passions.”
Freshman Thomas Scott participates in a exploration health studio.
“Through the studio, I get a chance to go to Temple University Medical Hospital once every couple weeks,” Scott said. “While I’m there I’m able to interact with doctors and nurses. I also get to see what they do on a daily basis. I really like the fact that I get an opportunity like this because I’m thinking about becoming a RN.”
In addition to studios, students have workshops. The workshops are skills based and help students with their literacy and math skills.
“I teach a literacy workshop,” said English and special ed coordinator Ayris Colvin. “We’re working on a new program called iLit, so within that program students are able to work on reading comprehension and vocabulary. We implemented that program to help students make gains in areas that they need. We use a continuum where we use competencies.
“Some of the things students have learned in my class include informational text, writing and argumentative essays. Students have also learned about narratives and different areas of literature. In the upcoming trimester, students will be doing a lot more research and a lot more informational text.”
Internships are another key element of what makes up Building 21.
“How many schools do you know where you can do an internship in the ninth grade?” said freshman Jennifer Loiseau. “I have an internship with the Support Center for Child Advocates. I want to be a child advocate lawyer, so to be able to see first hand how my future career will be is a great experience.
“We get an opportunity to design our own learning, which is a really cool concept,” she added. “Through designing our own learning, we’re able to set our own goals. Building 21 is an innovative school and I’m really enjoying my time at the school.”