Transforming a rural community, one pilot at a time

When demographic decline threatens a community’s future and demands leadership from students in its schools now, how should the district respond?

Edgecombe County Public Schools has a pretty compelling answer.

Edgecombe is a small rural school district in an economically-depressed area of eastern North Carolina. Following a year-long design process as part of the 2017-2018 Transcend+New Schools Collaborative, Edgecombe developed a radically different school model aimed at preparing scholars with the critical thinking skills, academics, confidence, and resilience they’ll need to transform the future.

With ongoing support from Transcend, Edgecombe has been grappling with some big questions: How might we creatively use time and talent to enable scholars to engage deeply in community-based projects, while also mastering NC’s Math I standards and “exceed[ing] growth” on the End of Course test? How might we measure whether or not students designing their own projects are improving their critical thinking skills?

To explore these questions, Edgecombe is piloting a micro school model—the North/Phillips School of Innovation—with 30 8th and 9th graders. Rather than rotating through classrooms and courses, students spend key parts of their day driving their own learning — in “Standards Labs,” Edgecombe learners tackle core academics in self-directed, self-paced learning environments. And then in “Passion Project Blocks,” they use the principles of design thinking to find opportunities to use their academic skills and knowledge to solve problems at the intersection of their areas of interest and the community’s needs. Throughout the school day, North/Phillips scholars (95% of whom are African-American or Latinx) have opportunities to explore their own identities and their potential for collective impact.

While there are still many questions to answer, we are encouraged by early indicators of success. Student discipline referrals are down, motivation is up, and academic achievement is improving. Most notably, scholars are beginning to see themselves as leaders, change agents, and valuable human beings. We are inspired by Edgecombe’s aspiration to transform a community by reimagining school, and look forward to sharing more about the team’s journey.

 Article from Transcend | Building beyond the limits of school design.


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