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Our Visit of Nova High School in Seattle

October 20, 2009

Below is a Letter and Proposal to Nova High School

Marc Perry, principal, Jean, Lisann, Kelsey, Kira, and Helen

Marc Perry, principal, Jean, Lisann, Kelsey, Kira, and Helen

Dear Marc, Lisann, Kelsey, and Kira,

I first want to say thank you for being such gracious ambassadors of Nova High School!  Helen and I (the Vermonters that showed up on your doorsteps earlier this month) walked away hopeful and excited about your reflections and stories of the Nova experience.  We have both done a fair amount of research and reading on Student Voice and Student Engagement and it was so validating to see this theory in practice for so many years!

Over the last couple of weeks, since my return from Seattle, I have thought greatly about how I might summarize and share your stories of Nova with my school, Harwood Union High School.  My thoughts have focused on the the importance of process and outcomes in education. Your stories validated for me the importance of relationship building between students and adults which I personally believe is at the heart of school reform that is being sought nationally.  Emerging research is just now suggesting, what seems perhaps more than obvious to all of us, that students who have a strong relationship with their school tend to do better academically (Dana Mitra, 2002).

Therefore, I have a desire to tell the story of Nova.  I have spoken about my brief experience at your school to a talented videographer, my principal, my advisory board and the Rowland Foundation, which has generously supported my sabbatical and project to “Democratize Harwood“.  Telling the Story of Nova would support my school in seeing theory in practice.  Furthermore, I see this as being not only beneficial to Harwood, but I think it would be in the best interest of Nova and manyother high schools here in Vermont.  If I heard you all correctly, community support for Nova is mixed largely due to the fact that what’s happening at Nova is perceived as “different” and therefore not as good.  If this video project were to be done collaboratively with folks at Nova (students and staff), we can produce something that not only helps us to bring the Nova experience back to Vermont, but will offer Nova the opportunity to co-create a piece they can use to educate the community about their school.

Helen and I engaged in discussion about student voice and engagement at Nova High School.

Helen and I engaged in discussion about student voice and engagement at Nova High School.

With that being said my interest is to return to Seattle accompanied by my principal (Duane Pierson) and a talented videographer (Paul MacGowen) for 3 or 4 days.  We would like to revisit Nova High School which I found to be a model of student voice.  The goal and purpose of this trip would be to capture the process and essence of this work so that all factions of the Harwood community can envision what difference student voice has in terms of school change/reform.  The plan while there would be to shadow students and teachers.  We would interview and video tape students and teachers engaged in committees, classrooms, etc.  In addition, we would like to interview Adam Fletcher (who accompanied us on our visit) in the context of an actual school where this work is happening.  Adam has national recognition in student voice and student engagement and is wonderful local resource to all of you!

Unfortunately, time is not on our side this will need to happen sooner rather than later due in part to my sabbatical ending in January.  My hope is that we can use emails to flesh out footage and interviews we would need to obtain while we were out there.  I understand the need to get release wavers and other logistics that I will try my best to prepare in advance of our arrival.  At this point, based on also the availability of my videographer, the first week of November works best for us.  Let us know how this sounds.  The planning for the 4 days would involve of the following:

  • 1 or 2 Teachers/Principal that would allow us to shadow them for a day
  • 1 or 2 Students that would allow for us to shadow them another day
  • 2 days for interviews and collecting footage of various activities going on in the school that would help illustrate points made in interviews

Ok… I realize that this email is getting lengthy and it goes against all brain research that says that the average American today only has a 10 minute attention span!  🙂  Let me know your thoughts and willingness.  I’m not expecting any financial contributions towards this project, but if you saw the value and thought that their were some funds in your budget to support this work I would certainly be open to that conversation.

Again thank you so much for hosting us on short notice and making our Seattle visit a memorable one!

Jean Berthiaume
Rowland Fellow
Civics/History Teacher
Department Head
Harwood Union High School

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