On Nov. 16, I met with Claire Lara and Megan Cooper of GOAL High School to talk about some very creative learning styles for students of Alamosa.
What is GOAL High School?
HERE are just a few talking points before we dive into my conversation with Claire and Megan. The following is provided by GOAL High School:
GOAL High School is a statewide free public charter school, accredited by the Colorado Department of Education and operating under authorizing District 49. A Charter school is one in which the student and/or family choose the school. Charters are still held accountable by the Department of Education, but may operate with freedom from some of the regulations imposed upon school districts. GOAL’s Mission is to develop productive members of society; our vision- to help students achieve their full potential in a caring, supportive, and personalized environment.
GOAL stands for Guided Online Academic Learning; the headquarters is in Pueblo, and District 49 in Colorado Springs holds the umbrella of the Charter.
Claire Lara has been a social emotional generalist for GOAL High School for close to nine years. Megan Cooper is a counselor and works between the Alamosa and Pagosa Springs sites; she has been with GOAL for 2 years.
Listen to the full story HERE.
In Episode 6 of Creative Citizen: The Unexpected Artist, Claire and Megan go more in depth about the opportunities GOAL High School offers.
I have been wanting to highlight a story about creative education/ learning and GOAL seems to be a great fit to segue into creative learning styles here in the San Luis Valley. I knew of GOAL when Claire and I worked at the Boys & Girls Clubs together a few years ago, but never really knew just
how creative these students and staff are when it comes to creating a personalized learning environment. Though the bulk of education is online, students can get one-on-one help and guidance from educators at site locations.
Lara: There are 37 site locations where students can come in and receive one-on-one support from what we call academic coaches, and on site they generally have a social/emotional generalist, a counselor, an administrative assistant, and then some kind of admin as well.
Megan talks a little about curriculum when it comes to education under the umbrella of a charter school. There are some differences, but for the most part public education follows a set of guidelines from CDE (Colorado Department of Education); you can read more information about charter education HERE.
Cooper: The structure of the curriculum is dictated by the TOSA’s (Teachers on Special Assignment) and then the teachers kind of get their own flair. They get the base of the curriculum then there are different teachers for different regions.
GOAL has also made a change in recent years transitioning from an “Academy” to a “High School.” This may seem like a small shift, but for a student going into a new space from a more traditional or “brick and mortar” school the title “High School” parallels a familiar feeling that maybe the student can identify with.
Cooper: I kind of like High School better because I feel like a lot of times students feel like they can’t come to GOAL and have a high school experience… but they can still do athletics, they can still join extracurricular activities… they can do a lot of things they would at a regular high school.
Public, private, independent, charter, or homeschool – there are a wide variety of learning styles that vary student to student and it is important to remember that all these different education systems exist for a reason, to help students learn in the style that fits their needs. Education is not a level playing field but it shouldn’t be. Every student is different and has different needs.
Lara: GOAL is not a one-size-fits-all, because maybe there are students where we are not a fit for them, but we are another opportunity for students to get an education and we have multiple ways they can achieve their high school diploma even up to the age of 21. … GOAL is the largest high school in Colorado. We have just over 5,000 students across the state. Teachers will hold live classes online, like the big zoom room, so like last year when the pandemic hit and everybody was trying to figure out “how do we do this online?” – over here at GOAL we are like, “we’re going to roll with this” because it’s what we’ve been doing and in a sense we were ahead of the times.
Megan speaks on what are called “Thrive meetings” which to me sounds like that game MASH – remember those from childhood days? Of course, Megan’s meetings with students are more serious than a simple game to tell your life’s fortune.
Cooper: Because it’s so personalized I have what I call ‘Thrive Meetings’ with students where we sit down, it takes 45 minutes to an hour, and I just get to know the student. What do they like to do for fun, where do they see themselves in the future. My favorite question to ask is that I want them to paint the picture of their ideal life 5 years after they graduate: Where are they living? What are they doing? What are they doing for fun? Do they have any pets? I want them to paint the picture of where they want their lives to be and then I bring it back and we look at what do you need to do to get there, what can we do right now.
Sometimes being in a space where your surrounding context challenges you in small ways, or at a minimum, gets you outside of your comfort zone, can be rewarding in the end. Just like Claire said, a few minutes of lunch time yoga was everything she needed at that moment and she didn’t know it until one of the students made sure she would be there. As much as staff, teachers, coaches, or anyone working in an educational setting in any form wants to help students grow, these individuals grow just as much from what they learn from the students. Being a teacher is a magical thing – a lot of hard work and strain, don’t get me wrong – but at the end of the day or semester or year, it is worth it.
Lara: It allows students to be who they are, it allows them to grow into who they are or who they want to be without four walls. … The bottom line is we want you (the student) to get your education, we want you to be successful, we want you to be happy, we want you to be you. So being able to give them the opportunity to just be them, and to get their education while being them, I can’t think of a better thing.
Let’s hit the pause button and rewind for a moment. This is an opportunity for a short backstory. Claire and I first met at The Boys & Girls Clubs of the San Luis Valley in 2017, so that would be 4 years (almost 5) that we have known each other and worked as a “hub” to help form connections in our community. One aspect we both share when connecting with groups or individuals is the conversation around identity and being 100 percent yourself unapologetically. Especially when working with young people who may not know who they are yet or who they want to be, we developed the hat bin. “Try on all these different hats” – but really it is a metaphor to say, “Who/what character do you want to be today? What do you want to try on next? Maybe I’ll be a scientist, maybe I’ll be a train conductor.” To “put on a different hat” is a common phrase that is known in society but transforming that phrase into a daily act, and a very conscious one at that, allows students to explore different aspects of their identity in a safe environment with supportive conversation in their own self discovery.
“All the worlds a stage, and all the men and women merely players”
– As You LIke It, Act II, scene VII
Learn more about GOAL HIgh School at goalac.org; use the drop-down menu to select a site.
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