- Connie Yowell, Collective Shift and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, National Writing Project

There is broad agreement today about the need to redesign our nation’s high schools. Ideas and initiatives abound from the schoolhouse to the White House for how our nation can reinvent a 19th-century-model school system to better serve the needs of 21st-century students.

But the reality is that in today’s ever-more complex, information-saturated, globally connected age, schools can no longer do it all. And indeed, they should not be expected to do so. No one institution can provide the array of skills and competencies that today’s young people need to succeed in life, work and community.

To truly create the high school of the future, schools need an open-walled approach that incorporates the rich and highly flexible learning resources already available outside the classroom. Including access to mentors, workplace internships and opportunities to pursue interest-based learning at community institutions or online, high schools must have support to create a positive feedback loop that ties academic achievement to students’ personal passions and to opportunities for contributing their talents in the real world.

In short: high schools need to be redesigned from the inside out and the outside in.

At LRNG, we are working to do just that. LRNG, which launched in October and will debut a technical platform in spring 2016, is working to develop the backbone for an emerging global learning ecosystem that seamlessly links together community-based learning opportunities at schools, local institutions like libraries and museums, and workplace internships with global learning opportunities online. This network of learning opportunities outside of school provides the web of connection that lets young people bridge their interests to opportunities that advance their future.

Meanwhile, inside of schools, innovative educators are creating new ways to link student interests with powerful learning outcomes outside of school. LRNG Innovators, a program developed by LRNG partner National Writing Project, supports “educator innovators” in taking up design challenges that help build tomorrow’s education systems, today.

In Pittsburgh, STEM teachers work with students to learn engineering concepts and practices through service efforts in partnership with local companies. In Washington, D.C., students in a citywide history class intern at museums to apply their developing skills as historians. In Los Angeles, a high school game-design program provides an on-ramp to the entertainment and gaming industry, while in North Carolina a high school leverages mentors to help young people acquire and expand interests through pop-up making experiences in a redesigned lunch period.

These examples, as well as those that will come from the the current LRNG Innovators Challenge, are part of an active culture of research and development by educators inside and outside of schools working to provide help all our young people find the learning opportunities they deserve.

Today, there is a growing divide between young people who have access to 21st century learning opportunities — mostly outside school — and those who do not. Wealthy families, who spend six times as much as their less affluent peers on out-of-school enrichment, also provide the mentorship and guidance needed to steer their children through the bewildering and often costly array of interest-driven activities that spark learning engagement, encourage civic involvement, build higher-order thinking skills, and prepare young people for the realities and challenges of the modern workplace. To make this learning available to all young people, we will need systems that support our broadest learning institutions, schools and libraries, in making the connections to out-of-school learning that right now only a small portion of our youth enjoy.

All young people deserve to engage in learning that grows their talents, inspires their future vision, and makes academic learning relevant to their real-world success. At LRNG, our future vision is to make that a reality for underserved youth everywhere.

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