NEXT Students Settle in for a New Type of Learning

Justin Krieger, English/ Language Arts teacher and co-director of the NEXT Charter School, doesn’t stand in front of a classroom to lecture. He doesn’t lecture at all. A recent Thursday morning found him using the Socratic method with eight high-schoolers in his class. “Does anyone want to make the argument that after high school, you will never need to read, write, speak and listen?”
“I’m figuring out a loophole,” a boy named J.P. answered. “If you’re blind, deaf and don’t know how to talk, you won’t need it.”

But there are systems for blind and deaf people to communicate, Krieger countered, and they can also use their senses. “No one,” he said, “can make the argument that you’re not going to need these skills.”
But they can get them in a different way.
The inaugural class of NEXT went back to school in August and left immediately, for a two-day retreat off Newfound Lake. They came back to an educational experience tailor-made for them.
There are no bells at NEXT. When a class is done, the students gather up their school-issued Mac laptops and move quietly to another room. There are no hall monitors, no bathroom passes and no desks: the students set up their laptops on conference tables, and their teachers sit with them.
Krieger set his group to filling out a survey on their past English Language Arts ELA experience. The survey was simple and personal: what ELA classes have they taken, what non-assigned reading have they enjoyed and what assigned reading have they enjoyed? The students bent over their new laptops. Nobody talked, or surreptitiously texted, and when Krieger called a “time’s up,” two students were still writing. He let them continue.
In another room, Joe Crawford, Social Studies teacher and co-director with Krieger, went over the requirements for graduation from NEXT. He used his laptop to project a chart of “competencies” on the big screen behind him. The required credits match the State of New Hampshire’s required credits for ELA, math, Social Studies, natural science, technology, art and wellness. But the way students achieve these may be different, Crawford said. For Wellness, they can earn credit outside school for activities they’re already engaged in, or find a new physical activity.
The competencies unique to NEXT are the last two, the Exhibition and the Capstone. The Exhibition is a twice-yearly event, for half a credit each, where a student does a public presentation. Their first Exhibition is Jan. 22, and they’ll talk about who they are and why they came to NEXT, Crawford said.
The Capstone is their final project, an internship in some area of interest, he said.
The students spent the previous day setting up Web sites and would spend part of the afternoon blogging, Crawford said. A girl named Megan projected the home page of her Web site on the big screen – from her laptop.
NEXT has no hurried lunch period, no cafeteria line and no assigned seating. That’s all been replaced by a period called Midday, where they eat lunch, write in journals, visit and hang out in any portion of the NEXT quarters they choose. They can bring a lunch or slip next door to the Gilbert H. Hood Middle School cafeteria, where they can purchase a lunch as part of the arrangement with the Derry Cooperative School District.
Several of the students opted for lunch in the lounge, a light-filled room with orange chairs and small tables. They bantered back and forth with teaching assistants Rachel Griffiths and Carrie White – there are no off-limits areas at NEXT, and teachers and students dine together. Other students holed up in unused classrooms to work on their journals.
Student Ben Hernandez lounged on one of the armchairs and said that he likes NEXT because of the one-on-one relationship with the faculty. He munched on a plateful of nachos, rice, meat and cheese from the Hood cafeteria, washed down with strawberry milk. He also liked the team-building at Mayhew Island, he said.
Trevor Werner dined on a Pop-tart and a hamburger as he worked on his laptop. “It’s a completely different way of learning,” Werner said. “It’s not a lecture and taking a test at the end. I’ve been here two weeks, and we haven’t had one lecture.”
There are also fewer rules, the boys said.
“That’s because we don’t harp on things that don’t matter as much,” Griffiths said.
Student Delia Judkins liked being a part of creating those rules, known as the “social contract.” It was part of their first day, she said. “At a regular school, they say, ‘Here are the rules’ – but we wrote our own,” she said. It was a long process, Judkins said, because “we had to make sure everyone was okay with it. If they weren’t, we had to start over.”
There’s no dress code, Judkins added. “If we wear something inappropriate, we’ll be told about it.”
Student Jonny Bottino said he was looking forward to the use of technology. Though traditional public schools use technology, they also use paper for test-taking, homework and classwork. “We’re 10 steps ahead of that,” Bottino said.
Safety is built into their technology, according to Krieger. All the students’ accounts are password-protected. The students can get into their own accounts, their teachers and parents can, but they’re off limits to John Q. Public – and predators. The students’ adviser monitors their accounts and warns them or their parents of any dangers, he said.
The NEXT board also has crafted two technology policies that are similar to those in traditional public schools, Krieger said.
For Bottino, the best part of NEXT, in addition to the technology, was meeting his new teachers and realizing “They are not insanely strict.”

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