Six Lessons We Learned From Spending Two Days with BASIS Students
Six Lessons We Learned From Spending Two Days with BASIS StudentsAndrew Elwell, Associate Director of Student Experience
Earlier this month, All Access traveled to Arizona where we had the chance to meet with students, faculty, and administrators from several schools in the BASIS.ed system.
BASIS.ed began in 1998 when founders Michael and Olga Block started their first charter school. That school, BASIS Tucson, began in a small rented space with 56 students. Today, BASIS.ed serves 7,500 students in 17 schools, both charter and independent schools, in five states.
For two days, we were able to sit in classrooms, engage with students, and learn more about what makes BASIS students so special. Here are just a few things that we learned from these students during our time at BASIS:
- A love of learning starts early; and it starts with teachers.
A constant refrain from BASIS students was the importance of having passionate, excited teachers to help them connect to the material. “The teacher needs to bring something beyond the textbook,” said one BASIS Tucson North student. Every student could name at least one teacher who had an immeasurable impact on their educational experience.
BASIS teachers typically have their academic degrees in the fields that they teach, which allows them to use their content expertise to drive learning. It’s not unusual to see a teacher with a Ph.D. in biology teaching 5th graders the scientific method or a teacher with a Ph.D. in world history reviewing medieval history with a class of 7th graders. Many students credited their love of learning with this early access to content experts.
- Advanced Placement courses and exams aren’t obstacles, they’re opportunities.
BASIS offers a highly rigorous academic program for its students, with its upper schools using Advanced Placement courses and exams to gauge student performance. All BASIS students are required to take six AP exams by the time they graduate, though this number ends up sounding low after talking to many juniors and seniors—most students average about 10 AP exams during their time at BASIS.
One might think so many AP courses and exams present an obstacle for BASIS students. On the contrary, students take on the challenge of AP exams as opportunities to show off what they know and what they learned over the year. “The AP exams are my Olympics,” one BASIS student said.
BASIS schools celebrate AP Exam time, providing extra time for exam review and encouraging students to do their best on the exam. At BASIS Tucson North, students receive a rousing send-off akin to a football pep rally for every AP exam they take. One by one, each AP exam taker’s name is called and the student runs through a human tunnel made up of BASIS students down the hallway to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.” What better way to get psyched for the exam?
- Access to college planning resources early and often has a big impact.
Each BASIS school has a college counselor who works with each senior to help guide them through the college planning process. The college counselor works with all students, but the work begins in earnest during senior year when each BASIS student must take a college counseling class. In addition to the course, seniors meet individually with the college counselor once a week until they’ve completed the college application process.
Using college planning resources like Big Future, students begin by creating a college list of 10 schools: two “reach” schools, six “target” schools, and two “safety” schools. From there, students work in their college counseling class to determine what schools they will apply to, complete applications, and explore financial aid and scholarship opportunities. The introduction of college planning early on to students in combination with the personal attention during their senior year has enabled BASIS students to smoothly navigate the college planning process.
- Social media is integral to students’ lives – both academically and personally.
Social media isn’t just for fun, it helps students tackle homework, study for exams, and stave off procrastination and senioritis. Several BASIS students said they found themselves spending too much time on Tumblr, but also cited Studyblrs – Tumblr blogs that share study methods, study playlists, exam prep, and more – as spurring them back into schoolwork instead of killing time on the social networking site.
Other BASIS students noted that they often used Facebook to help them get through school. For example, many students at BASIS Scottsdale use Facebook groups for their courses to help study for exams and offer encouragement for other students. One student said that if he was studying late at night and couldn’t decipher a history topic or a math equation, he could post in the Facebook group and have a response within minutes. These groups are often handed down from class to class as BASIS students graduate and move on. Who says social media doesn’t have academic value?
- Being involved inside and outside the classroom is important.
Taking an average of 10 AP classes during your high school career is a big undertaking in and of itself. However, BASIS students are active beyond their classroom. As seniors, BASIS students complete senior projects. These projects allow students to spend their final semester applying what they have learned in an independent study project, working with a mentor in the field to go in-depth into a topic. These projects range from working in a university biomedical engineering lab to taking on an internship to conducting field work in criminal psychology.
In addition, BASIS students are active in plenty of extracurriculars, including sports, volunteering, the arts, and more. They’re your typical teens and want to explore as much as they can during their high school years.
- Practicing hard pays off.
The results of this hard work speaks for itself. In 2013, BASIS students had an average score of 3.6 on AP Exams, and BASIS students passed 84% of the exams they took. That year, there were 148 AP Scholars, 95 Scholars with Honors, 263 Scholars with Distinction, and 78 National AP Scholars among BASIS students. Many BASIS schools can boast that 100% of their graduates have gone on to 4 years institutions.
Thanks to the hard work of these students in and out of the classroom, the students we talked to are headed to some of the finest college and universities in the country, many with scholarships and financial aid to support their attendance. In addition, many students planned to continue the research they conducted during their senior projects with faculty members in the fall, an exciting next step in their educational journey.