Two years in the making, the president, principal and members of the Bishop Hendricken High School faculty outlined to a group of community leaders Friday morning dramatic changes in the school curriculum aimed at giving students an edge when it comes to getting into college and understanding what they want to pursue as a career.
The INSPIRE program, drafted with the assistance of the Highlander Institute based in Rhode Island, is scheduled to start in the 2020 academic year. It will turn the conventional five-day school week on its head with the devotion of Wednesdays for all grades to 90-minute seminars, giving students the opportunity to explore a particular subject area using specific skills in six study areas – artistic, logical, interpersonal, mechanical and kinesthetic, linguistic and spiritual.
In addition, the school will establish “schools of excellence” within which students can specialize in fine arts, humanities, law and government, leadership and entrepreneurship and STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what they were built for,” Hendricken President Father Robert Marciano. He acknowledged change may not be easy and “scary, but not for us.”
It also isn’t coming without a lot of preparation, consideration and feedback.
Fr. Marciano and Principal Mark DeCiccio listed institutions of higher learning they have shared the program with, saying they are excited what it will mean in preparing students for college. They said there has also been a positive reception to INSPIRE from parents and alumni, some of whom wished the program existed when they attended Hendricken.
“Hendricken is changing the game for education,” said Michael Miele of the Highlander Institute. He said the school conducted a full curriculum review.
“The goal is not to put more stress on the students,” he said, but rather to captivate and inspire them. It is anticipated the program will result in a 10-percent reduction in the current curriculum that shouldn’t jeopardize the school’s accreditation or its ability to meet state Department of Education standards.
One measure of success, said DeCiccio, will be how Hendricken students distinguish themselves from their peers and how he believes colleges and universities will pull Hendricken applicants out of the pile because they demonstrate a mastery and passion within a specific discipline. He doesn’t see the program as impairing student ability to perform on the SATs and other tests used by college as a basis for admission.
According to the school website, the program – being coordinated by Sarah Murray – “gets to the core of Catholic education by challenging students to deepen their appreciation of beauty, goodness and truth; cultivate a reverence for learning; and foster an atmosphere of creativity.”
Highlights of the program include the opportunity to choose more elective-based coursework in specialized areas; courses that can be combined within a school of excellence; internships for juniors and seniors; project-based learning aimed at problem-solving and collaboration; online courses; and the encouragement of creativity and innovation.
“Boys learn better by doing,” DeCiccio said, explaining how the program will offer such opportunities as building robots and using tools and equipment. As much as the program aims to inspire students, though its exposure to multiple possible career paths it is expected to also help students make decisions because they know what they don’t want to pursue, observed Paul Danesi, the school’s chief financial officer.
Hendricken alum and attorney James Lawrence asked those in attendance to do some troubleshooting of the program as well as to be INSPIRE ambassadors.
Chris Ciunci, managing partner of Warwick-based Tribal Vision based, spoke of the digital transformation and the challenges he faces in finding employees knowledge in digital marketing. Speaking of graduates of institutions of higher learning, he said most are “ill equipped” for today’s demands.
Ciunci’s comments opened a conversation on the volume of data produced today and how rapidly transitions will come from drone deliveries to self-driven vehicles.
“They know more about you than you know about yourself,” said June Youngs, a recent retiree of CVS Health. She said retail outlets know the purchasing history of customers and hence an idea of what they would buy. She sees data mining as a skill in high demand.
Peter Thadeio of Pfizer talked of the explosion of data and the need to make it understandable and penitent.
“You don’t dumb it down, you make it relevant,” he said.
Personal injury attorney John Carroll spoke of the value of employees who know how to engage with people. He’s hopeful the program will take students “away from [their] phones” and get them to “actually talk [to people].”