Two Rivers School announced it will become a Big Picture School next fall. Staff have received training this year and are making preparations to adopt the new educational program centered around student-driven, real-world learning with competency-based instruction.
Since 1987, Two Rivers School has been an alternative learning program that emphasizes goal setting and personal responsibility for students in grades 8-12 who prefer a smaller school environment as they work toward a high school diploma. It began as a part-time evening program in 1987 and expanded to its current location in 1997.
The school serves about 110 high school students and 13 students in eighth grade each year.
Two Rivers School principal Rhonda Schmidt said she and the staff are excited to adopt the Big Picture model for the school.
“We have a strong advisory system here and do a lot of project-based learning, and we thought adopting the Big Picture model would be a good direction for our school, students and staff,” she said. “We wanted to build on the strengths we already have.”
The Big Picture model implements project-based curriculum and focuses on the “big picture” of student education and emphasizes transferable skills.
The vision of Big Picture learning is “that all students live lives of their own design, supported by caring mentors and equitable opportunities to achieve their greatest potential. We move forward prepared to activate the power of schools, systems and education through student-directed, real-world learning,” according to its website.
To help shape the new Snoqualmie Valley program, Two Rivers staff have been working to learn from the experience of other school districts in Washington State who have successfully adopted the Big Picture model, including Issaquah, Bellevue, Federal Way, Quincy, Gig Harbor, Chelan and Twisp. For an overview of Big Picture schools, go online to www.bigpicture.org.
The significant changes Two Rivers School will adopt as part of the Big Picture model include:
• Transitioning away from a credit-based system to a competency-based program.
• Outside internships twice a week for every student to help provide real-world work experience in local businesses and mentors as role models.
• Every student will be paired with one teacher “adviser” throughout his/her four years of high school.
• Two Rivers will serve students in grades 9-12, phasing out its eighth-grade instruction next year.
While it’s been a challenge to plan the transition during the current school year, Two Rivers history teacher Charlie Kroiss said he’s already begun introducing the Big Picture model to his students.
“It’s been amazing,” he said. “It’s always been difficult to keep kids motivated in class when they’re not really interested in what’s being taught. The Big Picture model helps them find what they’re really interested in.”
He said he’s already seeing results. He mentioned one student of his, an artist who decided to create an Impressionist-inspired painting for one of his class projects.
“It was incredible. [The student] spent so much time and energy on this project and they were so passionate about it,” he said. “I’ve never seen a student so excited to come to class — my class — before.”
In addition to the in-school curriculum, students will be required to participate in an internship in their line of interest during the school year.
Chrissy Riley, Two Rivers School student support coordinator, has been working to connect with members of the community to become internship mentors.
“People are already excited to become mentors for these students,” she said. “It’s a great way for students to learn and practice possible career opportunities and be a part of their community.”
Interested students, parents and guardians are invited to attend one of two upcoming informational meetings to learn about the new program and ask any questions. All the meetings will take place at Two Rivers School. The next informational meetings will be May 16 from 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. and May 18 from 10 a.m.-noon. The application deadline is May 31. All students except current Two Rivers students must apply.
During its first transitional year, Schmidt said all ninth- and tenth-grade students will engage 100 percent in the Big Picture model, and will work toward new competency-based graduation requirements. Students in 11th and 12th grades will partially participate in the Big Picture program, as these students have already earned significant credits and must fulfill the current 24-credit graduation requirement.
More information about the transition to the Big Picture model, including the application form, Big Picture competencies, and mentor/internship information, can be found on the Two Rivers School website (https://www.svsd410.org/tworivers).