Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
My home state of Idaho received a letter grade F in the year of 2015 when its education rankings were compared to those of other states all around the nation. I didn’t want to be held to this statistic. My friends and classmates were all aware of this reality, too, yet it seemed that there wasn’t anything we could do about it. The same words repeated over, and over in our heads: we are just high school students, finish the assignments, take the tests, and graduate. The public education system had been around since 1820 without significant change. And, although I was given more opportunities as a student at an International Baccalaureate school, I knew that I still had an obligation to speak out for change and reform in the status quo. Not everyone had those same opportunities.
In October of 2015, I participated in a 24 hour design thinking challenge—the Think Challenge—to brainstorm ways to reform education in Idaho and make it 21st century relevant. There were common themes that students wanted—project-based learning, real world relevance, and community engagement. I began realizing that I had immense power as a forward-thinking high school student, and that I needed to use this power to the best of my ability. I wanted to continue the conversation started at the Think Challenge, so I joined One Stone, the non-profit student-led organization that had put on the event. The specific group I joined was a follow up group for members that joined One Stone after the Think Challenge
After two weekly meetings—where we wrote our ideas of what we wanted to see, do and have in our ideal school,—Teresa, the executive director, called Eli, Will and I into her office. I took a seat in one of the silver chairs against the purple wall of her office. Will took a seat at the chair next to me, and Eli stood next to Will. Teresa shut the door, took a deep breath, and began talking.
“One Stone is building a school.”
The second those words escaped her mouth, it was like time had stopped. My jaw remained dropped and I had a hard time believing that all of the dreams and aspirations that I had for the education system in Idaho would be made into reality, that I was forming this future. I felt like I was defeating the doubt that had been placed on our role in making change in the education system. It’ll take time, maybe about fifteen years until we see significant change. Of course, along with excitement, we were nervous for the uncertainty of the unpaved path. We spent the following months solidifying the learning model, objectives, schedule, and design of the school space.
In the fall of 2016 we unveiled the One Stone school. Our first time meeting the students was one week after their first day of school. I remember looking around and feeling so incredibly amazed at the amount of creativity and love of learning seen in their eyes. The students asked us what our visions were for the future of the school, since it was our creation. After our responses, there was a brief silence in the circle, but a girl sitting two seats to the right of me spoke up.
“Thank you for using your voice to give us one”
Yes, I am from Idaho, the state that ranked 46th in the nation for education in 2015. However, I did not let that statistic prevent me from taking action for change. I believed that I could make profound change. The creation of the nation’s first tuition free and private high school, a project that I took on, was said to be one of the most exciting things happening regarding education in the nation by Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart. Because I spoke up, I helped forge a future for high school students.