Instead of going to school, school will come to you.
That’s the prize-winning idea behind RISE High, a proposed Los Angeles charter high school designed to serve homeless and foster children whose educations are frequently disrupted.
Los Angeles educators Kari Croft, 29, and Erin Whalen, 26, who came up with the idea, won $10 million in XQ: The Super School Project, a high school redesign competition funded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs.
RISE is one of 10 $10-million winning school projects nationwide. Winners receive the prize money over five years.
XQ officials, in announcing the winners on Wednesday, described RISE as a “completely new” model. The idea is to have three to four physical sites sharing space with existing nonprofits as well as an online learning system. A bus will also be turned into a “mobile resource center,” to bring Wi-Fi, a washer/dryer and homework help to the neediest students.
That way, if a student suddenly moves or can’t get to school, he or she will have various options to get tutoring or the day’s lesson. “The model exists outside the traditional confines of space and time,” Croft said.
RISE, which stands for Revolutionary Individualized Student Experience, is in its preliminary stages. It will be a charter school, but the staff is still figuring out governance structure, facilities and partnerships. As of now, the plan is to open with a small group of students next fall, but eventually to serve between 500 and 550.
Croft grew up in the rural South and graduated in the top of her public school senior class of 101. But at the University of South Carolina, she felt unprepared. Seeking to remedy that problem for others, she became a teacher, working in East Los Angeles through Teach for America before attending the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Last year, she worked as a fellow at Da Vinci Schools, an L.A. charter schools group that has served as an incubator for RISE.
Whalen came to education from a different perspective: He grew up in Santa Monica and went to the Garden of Angels School, a private school with no desks or large classes. He wanted more people — particularly children of color — to have similar positive experiences, so he became a teacher, working in Miami and now teaching seventh-grade nonfiction at KIPP Sol Academy, an East Los Angeles charter.
The two met while training teachers for Teach for America. “We started to realize that … the traditional school setting that we were both working in was really limiting,” Croft said. She saw students with housing instability fall more and more behind because they couldn’t get to school every day. “They were getting penalized for missing the full range of services they needed,” she said.
This year, Croft is piloting the academic portion of the RISE program in a small classroom at Da Vinci’s Hawthorne campus.
Students receive personalized plans detailing what they need to learn. Tests focus on presenting skills, as opposed to pencil-and-paper exams. Students can earn credits as soon as they’ve mastered a unit. RISE will operate on a year-round schedule to accommodate those who have to work or care for their families.
The project’s founders say they hope to cap student-teacher ratios at 25 to 1. Teachers will be trained to help students who have experienced trauma. RISE also plans to work with social service organizations to help students access healthcare, fitness, food, arts programming and legal services..