LEARNING WITHOUT LIMITS
“Global citizen” is a buzz phrase in education, but one that often promises more than it can deliver. However, at The Barstow School in Kansas City, Missouri, pupils form genuine global connections through the school’s groundbreaking use of online technology. From age three to the 12th grade, teachers lead a wide-ranging curriculum enabled by an innovative use of online resources, in particular the school’s own Hybrid Learning Consortium (HLC). “We’re trying to create a school without four walls,” says Head of School Shane Foster.
The Barstow School was founded in 1884 and is the oldest independent school west of the Mississippi River. In the spirit if its pioneering founders, Mary Louise Barstow and Ada Brann, Barstow challenges accepted ways of teaching. “Old schools tend to have traditions that are unbreakable,” says Foster, “but we have a very innovative approach to education through our satellite schools that we operate internationally and our sister schools. They differentiate us from any other school in the US.”
A GLOBAL SCHOOL
Barstow’s 750 students represent 30 countries and it is this diversity that helped spur the creation of the HLC. When Foster decided to reorganise the Leadership and Ethics class, it became an online discussion and debate forum between Barstow students and pupils in Tasmania, Shanghai and Madrid, in real time and via online posts. “The students challenged one another, educated one another,” he says. “It was all new for all of them.”
Realising that they could improve on existing online academy models, Foster and his colleagues created the HLC in 2013, which has grown to 35 independent schools from across America, Europe, Australia and the Far East.
The consortium expands the elective and curricular courses available to students who are taught in class, via online tutorials and posts, and through live discussions. Teachers from Costa Rica go online to help teach Spanish to other consortium students. “Learning does not have to happen in the classroom,” says Foster. “Students can drop in and out of their schedule and time zone to fit their individual needs.”
The wide range of courses open to Barstow’s students both on campus and online feeds curiosity and encourages students to organise their study time and choices independently. While technology does not replace teacher expertise, at Barstow it accelerates and expands learning opportunities.
A UNIQUE CHINESE PARTNERSHIP
The success of Barstow’s two satellite campuses in China exemplifies the potential for international collaboration. Instead of merely replicating an expat school online, the Shanghai and Ningbo campuses offer Chinese citizens and expat students an American education “It has been a unique journey with our students,” says Foster, who has seen exchanges for students and teachers result in a thriving cross-pollination of ideas.
“In 2017, more than 100 seniors graduated from our Ningbo and Shanghai campuses to some of the best universities in the world, so the programme has come full circle,” says Foster. “It demonstrates our uniqueness.”
From the age of three, pupils at Barstow use iPads in class. By second grade, they are learning non-linear video editing (the school’s director of digital literacy is a former PBS video producer) and, by the age of 12, the elective TV course enables them to contribute to the daily news broadcast on the Barstow Television Network. Such a dynamic curriculum, coupled with global education trips and collaboration with sister schools in France, Australia and Argentina, among others, is preparing Barstow’s students to become model global citizens within an engaged and fast-evolving international community.