Crosstown High: Our Invitation To You

We are celebrating making it to the final round of the XQ Super School Project with the Twelve Days of XTH! Each day we’ll release portions of our XQ application so you can learn more about the vision for Crosstown High. 

Today’s post — our last in this series — is certainly our longest, but we hope ties together all we have shared over the past twelve days about the vision for where Crosstown High is heading. But that vision is still developing, and we want our community to continue to shape it. Please read through to our invitation at the end.

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Crosstown High (XTH) is being designed to help Memphians answer three core questions:

What are the essentials for a thriving community? How do you repair a city fractured by injustice and inequality? And what does it mean to reimagine education for a changing world?

These are also the driving questions of Crosstown Concourse, an ambitious redevelopment of one million square feet of abandoned warehouse space into a regenerative waystation of artistic expression, experiential education and holistic wellness — and the ecosystem in which our school will be situated.

But what should a school in such a place actually look like, and feel like, and do?

We believe there is only one possible set of answers.

Amidst a civic experiment that is designed to dissolve access barriers and be inclusive to all, Crosstown High must do the same.

Amidst a public space that is designed to promote openness, interconnection, and unbounded exchange, Crosstown High must do the same.

Amidst a latticework of porous edges that are designed to allow for the free flow of everyday life and human activity, Crosstown High must do the same.

A school like ours must be a home base more than a school.

A school like ours must be oriented outward, not inward.

The learning that happens there must be action-oriented, not abstract.

The space in which this all occurs must be dynamic, not fixed.

In short, just as Crosstown Concourse is daring to reimagine what it means to come together in a community of living, Crosstown High must reimagine what it means to come together in a community of learning.

Photo: Ginger Spickler

Photo: Ginger Spickler

SPATIALLY, this will manifest in a floor plan that is agile and adaptable, welcoming and porous, and collaborative and interdisciplinary.

STRUCTURALLY, this will manifest in our adoption of a longer school year and day as learning bleeds out of the traditional academic calendar and into every facet of a student’s life. However, increased time “in school” will not feel burdensome, as there will be greater flexibility in how time is utilized by both teachers and young people, and in active and sustained partnerships with our fellow Concourse tenants, whose workplaces will provide rich and real-world learning opportunities for our students.

CULTURALLY, this will manifest in our commitment to recruit a student body that is reflective of our city, and that allows us to embody the mantra of the entire Concourse: Better Together. 

PEDAGOGICALLY this will manifest in our adoption of competency-based progressions for students in each subject area, and in our commitment to have all students demonstrate mastery of higher-order thinking skills via project-based and portfolio assessments of their learning.

The research urging us in this direction, across a range of fields, is clear. “Everything that happens to us affects the way the brain develops,” says Dan Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA. “The brain is a social organ, made to be in relationship. What happens between brains has a great deal to do with what happens within each individual brain . . . [And] the physical architecture of the brain changes according to where we direct our attention and what we practice doing.”

The Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning sounded a similar note in their 1999 report, How People Learn. “Learners of all ages are more motivated when they can see the usefulness of what they are learning and when they can use that information to do something that has an impact on others – especially their local community.” And Case Western’s James Zull concurred in his book, The Art of Changing the Brain. “Learning depends on experience,” he wrote, “but it also requires reflection, developing abstractions, and active testing of our abstractions . . . So we might say that our best chance to help another person learn is to find out what they want, what they care about.”

Photo: Joanna Zhang

Photo: Joanna Zhang

But it isn’t just the research that drives us in this direction — it’s the voices of hundreds of Memphians echoing the same refrain. Students are crying out for education that actively engages them. Parents are clear on the type of education that brings their children joy — or disengagement. Educators who are already testing these theories in their classrooms say that it just plain works. And employers are demanding workers who can solve some of the toughest challenges in our city and world.

This sort of comprehensive approach to school (re)design, we believe, is what it means to be better together.

An invitation: What is your response to this vision? What about it excites you? What scares or worries you? What ideas do you have? How do you want to contribute? Please share your answers to any or all of these questions here.

Here are a couple of can’t-miss elements of our XQ application from previous posts:

Crosstown High Manifesto: Our school’s design drivers

Better Together – The XTH team and some of our partners get a sneak peek of the site where we will build our school together.

Note: Some XQ application elements have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.

Loaded For Bear