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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Q&A: Shorecrest High School

An interview with the faculty and students on how this restructured school continues to teach students how to meet and exceed their own expectations.
By Edutopia Staff
Credit: Edutopia

What is Shorecrest High School?

How did Kevin and Ryan's work opportunity with Microsoft come about?

How did their experience help Kevin and Ryan in and out of school?

Do other Shorecrest students engage in similar experiences?

What makes these kinds of experiences possible at Shorecrest?

What role did site-based management play in Shorecrest's restructuring efforts?

What have Kevin and Ryan been doing since graduation from Shorecrest?

What is Shorecrest High School?

Shorecrest High School in suburban Seattle has a longstanding reputation for excellence in education. In 1988, Shorecrest was one of five Washington high schools to receive a six-year "Schools for the 21st Century" state grant to restructure its educational program. The result of the restructuring effort was the creation of a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum, which includes the school-to-career component profiled in Learn & Live.

Shorecrest, one of two high schools in the Shoreline School District, has a student population of approximately 1,700 and reflects the district's demographics of approximately 4% African-American, 17% Asian, 1% Indian, 3% Hispanic, and 75% white.

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How did Kevin and Ryan's work opportunity with Microsoft come about?

When they were freshmen at Shorecrest High School, Kevin Baillie and Ryan Tudhope enrolled in a computer animation course offered through the school's Industrial Technology Department. Their interest in computer-assisted drafting had been piqued by the work of several Shorecrest seniors whom they saw working with a 3-D program. They also credit instructor Rick Nordby with inspiring them to pursue their budding interest. Says Kevin, "He always encouraged his students to find out what they love and then helped them pursue it."

Nordby helped Kevin and Ryan learn about and then arrange funding to purchase a sophisticated 3-D software package, and often stayed after school so they and their classmates could continue working with the software. Throughout their careers at Shorecrest, Kevin and Ryan continued to take industrial technology courses, including Visual Technology, which helped them develop skills in multimedia design and authoring.

The two students began applying their skills in the workplace during their sophomore year. Through Shorecrest's school-to-career program, the two arranged an unpaid internship at Seattle's Space Needle Corporation, for which they received academic credit. (All Shorecrest students are required to successfully complete a 90+ hour internship, which is connected to a potential career interest. Students work closely with their Shorecrest school-to-career coordinator, their teacher, and an on-site mentor. They also complete a summary document outlining their accomplishments, which is added to their personal portfolio.)

Kevin and Ryan's work with the Space Needle Corporation helped them develop the expertise and professional contacts that led directly to their internship at Microsoft.

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How did their experience help Kevin and Ryan in and out of school?

Both projects gave Kevin and Ryan insight as to how knowledge learned in school applies in the real world. Says Kevin, "We had the chance to use what we were learning in school in a really exciting way. For example, we needed to understand and apply the rules of physics to accurately project the movement of animated objects." The projects also helped the two students refine their computer animation skills on a professional level and learn how professionals function in the workplace.

Since graduating from Shorecrest, Kevin and Ryan have continued to hone their skills. Most recently, they helped create computer animation for Star Wars: Episode I, an opportunity that arose out of the filming of Learn & Live. Says Kevin, "It has been an amazing experience! We have continued to learn -- not only about new styles and techniques of computer animation, but also about many aspects of filmmaking."

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Do other Shorecrest students engage in similar experiences?

Shorecrest's interdisciplinary curriculum and several graduation requirements, all briefly described below, ensure that every student's educational experience is connected to personal interests and to life beyond school.

* Interdisciplinary Curriculum: A legacy of the school's ongoing restructuring efforts, interdisciplinary curriculum units at each grade level tie subject areas together: the focus in the sophomore year is the "Individual," in the junior year it is "Community," and in senior year it is "Pacific Rim."

* Community Service: All Shorecrest students are required to complete 60 hours of community service in order to graduate. This program officially begins during the sophomore year and is monitored through the tenth-grade English class. Students can volunteer at schools, community agencies, or hospitals, among other places. The school's Community Center Office helps students choose a volunteer site and set up a schedule.

* School-To-Career: Many students at Shorecrest undertake a 90-hour Career Internship. Some of the sites where students have interned are: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington Pharmaceutics, KCTS Channel 9, and various locations for elementary music teaching, graphics and Web design, music production, and massage therapy.

* Senior Project: All seniors are required to successfully plan, prepare, present, and assess a year-long Senior Project as a graduation requirement. Students may work individually or in small teams, developing and carrying out their project. They work with a mentor, typically a teacher from school, and present their project at the end of the year to a panel of reviewers. In one recent example, students Chrissy and Joy produced a multimedia guide to Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park. They made several trips to the rainforest, collected representative samples of leaves, bark, and needles from the trees. They discussed observations and findings with their mentor. They shot video and took pictures, which they later incorporated into their guide.

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What makes these kinds of experiences possible at Shorecrest?

Shorecrest's innovative and rigorous interdisciplinary curriculum is the legacy of a major restructuring effort launched in 1988 with the help of a state grant. The school's vision, as stated in the grant, was to "broaden student learning by promoting project-oriented and enrichment activities as well as classes that explore interdisciplinary themes."

Over the six-year life of the "Schools for the 21st Century" grant (1988-1994), Shorecrest staff changed both what they taught and how they taught it. Led by a Leadership Committee established under the grant and comprised of teachers, an administrator, and students and parents, the school used scheduled planning time one afternoon each week to plan and implement changes to the curriculum. They added theme-based curriculum strands at each grade level and instituted rigorous additional requirements for graduation, including community service, school-to-career, and senior project. (See the Appendix for additional information.)

After several years' focus on curriculum changes, the school began looking more deeply at how their teachers taught. The school used professional development funds provided by the grant to conduct further research into new teaching practices, such as constructivism. Says Principal Susan Dersé, "We began giving students real problems in the real world. For example, when the Seattle Mariners and the City of Seattle were considering various sites for the construction of a new ballpark, math students and their teacher would go downtown to take measurements and evaluate different potential sites and then submit their opinions."

Block scheduling is also central to Shorecrest's educational program. Shorecrest adopted this alternative to traditional class periods in 1995 when the school staff agreed overwhelmingly that the old model no longer made sense. Says Principal Susan Dersé, "We started with the traditional 55-minute periods that have been in existence at this school since its inception in 1961. The more that we learned about the world of work and how students work together and how students can work -- collaboratively in projects -- and how teachers work best, the more we felt constrained by the limitations of the class schedule. We would just get the students started in something and the bell would ring."

At Shorecrest, the six-class-per-day schedule was replaced four days a week with a three-period schedule. Each period is 105 minutes long. The longer class periods allow for in-depth discussion and more adequate lab/project time.

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What role did site-based management play in Shorecrest's restructuring efforts?

Few of the changes to Shorecrest's instructional program would have been possible without a decision-making body at the school site. Such a body has existed at Shorecrest, in one form or another, since it won the "Schools for the 21st Century" grant in 1988.

The "Shorecrest 21st Century Leadership Team" met weekly during the six years of the grant (1988-1994) to plan for the implementation of the major goals of the grant. The team was originally comprised of nine teachers, one administrator, and four students. District funds provided release time for teachers to meet. In 1994, as the grant was expiring, the Shoreline School District implemented site-based management throughout the district. As it currently functions, Shorecrest's Site Council is largely a successor to the early Leadership Committee, although membership and the group meeting times have changed.

Principal Susan Dersé thinks of Shorecrest's fifteen-member Site Council as the "conscience of the school." Comprised of three students, six teachers, two support staff, one administrator, and three parents, the school's governing body is invisible to most members of the community, but its work is critical to the school. Site Council wrote the statement of purpose, which reflects Shorecrest's overall philosophy. The group also sets school improvement goals, which then are sent on to the staff for ratification. For example, their exploration of how Shorecrest could improve the use of time at school led to the staff's eventual adoption of block scheduling in 1995. (See the Appendix for the statement of purpose and examples of how Site Council functions at Shorecrest).

Although site-based management has been valuable at Shorecrest, Principal Dersé has noted that subtle differences in approach can lead to dramatically different results with this approach to school governance. She cautions that adoption of site-based management does not lead to overnight changes and that, contrary to popular expectation, decentralization of authority does not leave principals with more time. Rather, it causes a shift in their use of time. (See the Appendix for more of Susan Dersé's insights into Site-Based Management.)

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What have Kevin and Ryan been doing since graduation from Shorecrest?

Following their graduation from Shorecrest High School in 1997, Kevin and Ryan's prowess with computer animation helped them earn positions with Lucasfilm Ltd. working on Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. The two worked as members of the animatics team, which was responsible for creating moving blueprints for scenes in the movie. Their team used 3-D modeling and animation programs to create video game quality "rough drafts" of scenes. Once approved, these scenes were used as the basis for much more detailed final shots or scenes in the movie.

While this work seems light years removed from his high school classroom, Kevin says a strong foundation in math and physics is critical to his current work: "I would not be a computer graphics artist at all without a solid grasp of all kinds of mathematical skills and concepts, from basic measurements, to an understanding of sines and cosines."

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