Man: Go ahead, pull.
Narrator: In most places, the system of American public education hasn't changed much in the past century.
Man: Here in this room, the children learn to read, to write and to figure.
Narrator: Built on a rigid agrarian model, it remains immune to reform, intact and in decline, ruled by clocks and bells, while the rest of the world changes around it.
Teacher: One through twenty, are there any questions?
Bruce: Forty percent of middle class kids in America are completely disengaged from school. They even think this is so boring, they have no use for anything going on there. It's really criminal in a sense. We have this wonderful, exciting world that we could expose them to. And instead of that, we're saying, "Well, you can't get there until you memorize all these facts, and then maybe when you get out of college, you can do something that's fun."
George: We've come to a crossroads in American education, as to whether or not we can carry the current structure of this educational system through this century, and I think there's compelling evidence to suggest that we can't do that. We cannot hamstring education by the structure of the school day.
Narrator: While there is no one size fits all remedy to the limitations of the current educational structure, many promising efforts are underway across the country that herald a new day for learning, a fresh approach to the pursuit of knowledge and the use of resources beyond old constraints of time and place. There is an extraordinary community center in the heart of New York City. It offers a complete range of medical services from dental and medical checkups, to mental health counseling. There are adult education classes, and computer training courses, a basketball program and a bicycle shop, a dance company and a string ensemble. Those are just a few of the activities offered after school at IS two eighteen, a public intermediate school, designed from the beginning to meet the needs of the entire community.
Jane: When I first came to this school, I noticed two things. I noticed that the children seemed happy, and I noticed that there were a lot of extra adults around, and I wanted to know what was happening here and how we could make it happen in more places.
You wanna spell this one first?
Narrator: IS two eighteen is open six days a week from seven in the morning to nine at night all year long. It's the product of a partnership between the New York City Board of Education and the Children's Aid Society, which pays for and administers the extracurricular programs.
Man: The next thing is the planning for the extended day program. Next year, how--
Rosa: There has to be definitely an openness about the things that we both bring. There's an understanding of the principles experienced as an educator. There's an understanding of my experience as a social worker, and how do the two combine?
Man: No, you did good. That was good. The way you're doing it is okay.
Teacher: Open up, find wild ginger. It's on page fifty-nine.
Narrator: In Minneapolis, the natural environment is a living biology lab for various community service projects, conducted at all hours by students in the school of environmental studies.
Dan: Well, the kids go out and do a chemical analysis of the water. They also will write a technical paper and then the present their findings to the water commissioners from the local cities, and those people actually will be assessing the student work. And what we find is it really raises the bar for kids and their performance. And what we also find is, kids tend to remember what they've learned down the road, because they put so much effort into it, and they work with other students to create a high end product.
Could use one more.
Girl: Fire ribs, chicken sandwich, they're really good.
Narrator: At Oakland, California's Fremont High School, students solved a lunchtime truancy problem by opening a student-run food cart. As part of an after school club, they surveyed other needs in their community, and developed businesses to address them, such as a tax preparation service.
Student: At line thirty-six and thirty-seven?
Narrator: They also responded to a district call for new school ideas and ended up designing a new school curriculum based on their after school program, which is operating today.
Nidya: Our experience made us wanna go to school, work real hard, do more project based learning, community service. And so we said, "Why can't everybody learn this way?"
Narrator: Clarence Wells spends two days a week rebuilding racing cars. Evelyn Sanchez spends her Tuesdays and Thursdays working at a veterinary hospital. And Chandelle Wilson helps run a nonprofit arts center. These aren't part time, after school jobs, but school day internships that allow students to pursue their individual passions.
Student: I shot it with thirty-five millimeter.
Narrator: Real world learning situations are at the core of the curriculum of big picture schools, which operate at more than thirty-five sites across the country.
Elena: I think it's better for the kids, 'cause they have more of a track to follow, and she knows now that you have to keep your grades up from ninth grade on, even before that. They don't just look at your last year, where when we were in high school, it was more like, oh, just goof off and do whatever, and then towards the end, you know, pick it up.
Evelyn: I really like being here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I even come on the weekends and I get paid. I want to pursue veterinary. That's what I wanna do in future. I wanna hopefully become a doctor.
Did you turn in that assignment?
Narrator: Thanks to a unique partnership between the San Francisco school district and the local architectural foundation, some students spend mornings in traditional classes and afternoons working as interns at some of the top architectural firms in the city.
Man: We did a walkthrough at the base of clock tower to find out--
Justin: I'm pretty much an assistant architect, like I get to see everything an architect has to do, has to go through, has to deal with, and it definitely gives you a motivation. You're doing something different. I go there and I just learn tons.
Man: We can verify our drawing and actually fill in the missing parts.
Frank: What we've targeted are students who have not done well in school and we want them to finish and we want to give them a reason for finishing, and hopefully along the way, for them to see that there's career opportunities for them beyond getting their high school diploma.
Woman: You don't have to scrap the design, 'cause the design is beautiful.
Will: We know this works first by the reaction from the students. We get feedback from the mentors on the growth that they see the students working in their firms, and we're starting to get feedback from test scores. We're starting to see that the students are having a higher success rate in high school, because they go back to their high schools energized.
Mikalynn: You get to learn about architecture. You get to sharpen up your skills on like algebra, and like so I always joke around with my mom and like say, you know, "I'm gonna design your house one day."
Narrator: The Clark County school system of Las Vegas is a microcosm of the country's challenges.
Carlos: Our demographics have changed radically. You know, we went from a district that was seventy-two percent Caucasian, ten, fifteen years ago, to now, a district that's only forty-eight percent Caucasian and the minorities are the majority.
Narrator: The fastest growing system in America, Clark County faces a booming non-English speaking population, a high high school drop out rate, and a facilities crunch. But by putting student needs at the center of the process, the district has developed some innovative solutions, including the creation of an extensive distance learning curriculum.
Mike: I'm able to interact on a live white board with the students. We speak through the mic.
If you look at your work and see if you should have been adding instead of multiplying them.
Narrator: There's also a unique high school that caters to the needs of students that work.
Kay: We have kids that work early morning construction. We have kids that work late night at casinos. And so the high school that goes from two in the afternoon to nine o'clock in the evening is perfect for these kids.
Joseph: It's a different environment. The teachers are like a lot more understanding. They help you out more. It's a good school to come to, because they like, they know your needs, they know you're working, so they really reward you for that.
Narrator: At this Clark County elementary school, English language skills are reinforced throughout the day by technology.
Find the balloon T, T.
Narrator: And mentorships.
What is that sound?
Narrator: There are also literacy programs after school for preschool children and their parents.
Number one, John is a student.
Carol: We knew we had to meet the needs of the entire family, so by working with the middle school across the street, the parents go across the street and get English lessons, which is going to enhance their future, in terms of job potential. And all the older siblings they have many choices. Like right now, we have intramural soccer going on. We have ballet.
Woman: And one...
Carol: We have line dancing.
Leah: The biggest thing, building self esteem. They didn't think they'd be able to perform. First of all, they couldn't even do the first dance. They said, "We can't do this." Now they know three dances. We're working on the cowboy hip-hop.
Narrator: Successful programs like these require extraordinary vision, creativity and commitment, and are not easily maintained.
What exactly can we get done?
Narrator: But they hold the promise of a new day for learning in America.
Teacher: You want to put your GPSs up this way.
Milton: This new day for learning will require the design of an entirely new learning system for our students. We'll need not just schools, but also many other organizations, youth serving organizations, businesses and universities, even museums and libraries, to rethink how children learn, where they learn and when they can learn. And we do know this can happen, because we've seen many examples of how this is happening around the nation.
Jane: The needs are always greater than the resources that we can bring to the table, even collectively, but I think that we have found that if you have the word "yes" written in your heart, you can make almost anything happen.
All: All right!
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to Edutopia.org