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Has H-B Woodlawn Strayed Too Far From It's Original Philosophy?

HB-Woodlawn was founded over 40 years ago here in Arlington County to offer an alternative public education for those students who desired more control over their educational lives. With a relatively low student population in Arlington at the time,Woodlawn was able to offer a student governed school with small class sizes and intimate student-teacher relationships. For instance, in our "underground handbooks" , books made by seniors from various points in the school's history describing the school at that time, you can trace our alternative roots from the teacher-student smoking spots on campus to the completely wacky course offerings.

Although we are in a much different time and environment then that of Woodlawn's founding, as an establishment we claim to stay true to these alternative roots. As in the 70's, to be a successful student at Woodlawn, you must prize self-motivation and self-discipline, and students can have an affect on how their school works via Woodlawn's weekly Town Meetings. However, in the midst of overpopulation in Arlington Public Schools and intensely college-focused competition, Woodlawn is facing a threat to its original philosophical foundation. Already in the past few years, Woodlawn has agreed to move from its historical building and increase our student body population by 10 percent to help with overcrowding. Both changes directly challenge Woodlawn's foundation of small class sizes and close teacher relationships, as current teachers would need to stretch their already limited allocation with more students. Regarding competition, Woodlawn has now adopted a AP heavy course offerings in order to allow its students to be competitive in the college process, but emphasizing standardized testing in the curriculum over the original creative learning methods. There is also the argument that perhaps the student body today is more "complacent" as we are forced to accept these new County enforced changes after months of fighting, whereas, the 70's version of Woodlawn would never have allowed such an altering change to occur.
With these major changes in the works, the Woodlawn community is met with the question whether they have moved too far from their original philosophy. Are we able to compromise the County's demands while keeping student-governance alive, or is the current educational requirements just to strict now-a-days for that level of student control to even be possible? Over the next couple of months Woodlawn community will be forced to answer this question as our future at the Wilson site approaches and the new students arrive.

Posted: Mar 24, 2015 by Christine DeRieux

comments:
Yes -- and No
H-B Woodlawn is not the school it was -- but should it be? Many schools of this kind closed over time. This program survives because it adapts. The world changes, so should all schools and programs. I would gently disagree that moving the school changes the philosophy. I was part of the 1978 merger. The two schools (Hoffman Boston & Woodlawn) merged and moved. Did it change what the school was? Yes. Did it make it less student-centered, less student-empowered? No. A similar conversation happened when 6th grade was added. Many felt that "little kids" would ruin the freedom. In some ways they did, but in other ways, it made the community ask about how one is "taught" to handle freedom and choice. Some other points: Size. Yes, the current size is too large. But 10 kids more per grade doesn't change the fact that it passed "too large" a very long time ago (when it was a population in the 300s). Keep in mind -- larger # of students does NOT mean larger classes. HBW gets smaller classes by rolling in counselor allocation to teacher allocation, and with the use of outside teachers. That doesn't change, whether you have 300 kids or 600. AP overload? Yes. Don't like it, can't change it. Too endemic to the competitive nature of the population. Should there be a "two APs a year" limit at the school? I think so, but that eliminates student choice, and is not likely to pass anyway. Push-back against the School Board? This isn't the 60s, or the 70s for that matter. Getting things done in this current highly political environment means finessing the powers that be, not hitting them over the head. We are not living in a time when student empowerment is necessarily seen as the good thing it was seen as in the past. If this kind of program is to survive then we have to understand the environment of the current age. As a sidelight, I would say the program has not helped itself. Too much internal focus, and, a touch of hubris around being able to do "what you want" and not seeing yourself as part of APS has left a negative impression on many who have never set foot in the building. When critics comment on HBW, there are few defenders beyond the school community itself. That's not healthy. A wiser path, which was not taken the past decade or two, would have been to be out in the community talking about what the school does, why it is good, and contributing to the school system as a whole. In some sense, the need to capitulate to School Board requests at this time is a mess of our own making. Is HBW what it was? No. And today's HBW doesn't look like what it will look like 20 years from now. And that's a good thing. That's why it will still be around.
Comment by: Leiford - 06/11/2015 02:01 PM
thanks!
Thank you for reading and considering this so carefully. as the site editor AND an HB Alum (93!) i love hearing everyone's thoughts. I agree it has to change to survive. YAY HB!
Comment by: Sally, site editor - 07/13/2015 10:27 AM


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