The secrets behind one school’s remarkable turnaround

Technology, service learning are key components of the turnaround at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School

Technology and service learning are key components of this school’s remarkable turnaround.

Twelve years ago, Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in St. Louis, Mo., ranked among the area’s lowest-performing schools. With a 59-percent poverty demographic, low test scores, and dilapidated facilities, the school faced serious challenges that some thought insurmountable. A turnaround would require a bold vision—and nothing less than a groundbreaking shift in approach.

That turnaround happened, and in ways that many people didn’t think possible. In 2012, MRH was one of two $60,000 Grand Prize winners in the Follett Challenge, which recognizes top-notch educators who are designing 21st-century teaching and learning programs. That same year, we were honored to be named an International Center for Leadership in Education Model School. In November, we were named a 2014 National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) Breakthrough School in recognition of our strong academic success in the face of challenges that result from high poverty rates. In 2014, we enter our third year as an Apple Distinguished School.

This remarkable turnaround took a decade, and its trajectory has been grand and nuanced in ways that still amaze me. Where you once found decrepit buildings and students and staff who felt about as run-down as their physical surroundings, you now find community gardens and bee hives, art, and a vibrant use of technology throughout.

A laptop for every student

One key to MRH’s dramatic turnaround is the integration and well-designed use of technology resources.

In 2007, MRH become one of the first Missouri public high schools to hand out laptops to all students. Today, we are a one-to-one laptop school. All students receive a laptop, pay a small insurance fee, and are allowed to keep the computer forever upon graduation. This has leveled the playing field and narrowed the digital divide by giving all students equal access and training to the same powerful technology.

Whether they’re at home or at school, students can access all classroom curriculum resources on our Desire2Learn (D2L) eLearning site. Parents also have access to student work, grades, and attendance online, enabling them to track their children’s progress.

Taking full advantage of a laptop’s resources requires reliable internet access. MRH stays open until 5:00 p.m. every day to allow students without internet access at home to take advantage of our free Wi-Fi. Students can also access Wi-Fi after 5:00 p.m. at the Maplewood Public Library, which sits next door to MRH.

The Research & Design Center (R&D)

Our library, known as R&D, is the vortex of learning and collaboration at MRH. Up until the turnaround, it was an old-school library. But MRH staff envisioned our ultimate new “library” as a true R&D center—a buzzing, one-stop resource shop for teachers and students.

(Next page: How the school’s ‘Cornerstones’ program was instrumental in the turnaround as well)

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