Jefferson County Open School pursues its own unique vision of engaging, relevant, learner-centered education, embracing an educational philosophy rooted in the belief that students are inherently curious and want to learn. Accordingly, educators should follow the lead of the student, facilitating opportunities for students to discover, explore, and master their interests and their passions. In doing so, the school has provided a vibrant and viable alternative to conventional schooling—an alternative that is particularly stark in our age of standards- and test-based accountability policies. The school offers an equitable, innovative, and proven educational approach that features a commitment to educating the whole child.
The Open School’s approach is built around a series of six self-directed learning projects in specified but broad areas (e.g., logical inquiry, career exploration, and practical skills). These projects are designed by each student, working within a long-term relationship with a faculty advisor who guides their work. Because these projects arise and are developed by each student, they are personally meaningful and relevant. Learning projects foster intellectual growth while simultaneously assisting students as they navigate the transition to adulthood.
On the day of our visit, we sat in on a whole-school meeting where students, among other things, presented on participation in the commemoration of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march. As shown in a short documentary made by one of the traveling students, the group marched the entire route and even stopped at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas on the way to Alabama. Their authentic participation in the community they joined included speaking at one of the formal commemorative events.