Project to rethink Seminole Tribe high school is an XQ finalist

The Seminole Tribe of Florida and FIU have big plans to transform tribal education all across the United States.

A proposal was submitted to the XQ Super School Project to transform the Ahfachkee School located on the Big Cypress Reservation in Clewiston, Fla. It is one of 50 finalists vying for a chance to win a $10 million grant to rethink high school. Lauren Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, launched the XQ Super School Project in September 2015 as an open call to create high schools that prepare students for the rigorous challenges of college, jobs and life in the twenty-first century.

XQFor decades, the Ahfachkee School has served the Seminole community, but with its traditional boundaries and standardized curriculum, its students are falling behind. Those students, who desire energizing classes that address modern-day issues, are struggling to find their place in an outdated school structure.

Through the XQ Project, Ahfachkee will re-conceptualize the high school experience by integrating socially relevant project-based instruction that targets the specific needs of the community, thus positioning students as empowered agents solving challenging problems for the Seminole tribe and Native Americans. These challenges include, for example, land and water management, agriculture, animal husbandry, climate change mitigation, design of applicable applications, management of government, and education. By contextualizing the projects in issues directly impacting the community, student motivation to learn and develop skills will be maximized.

“What the school can provide is leaders who are motivated to take over the Tribe and leave something to make it better,” said Seminole Tribe of Florida Big Cypress Councilman Cicero Osceola.

The goal is to create a school that inspires its students to dream big and equip them in their pursuit of higher education and careers. It will blend the culture and traditions of the Seminole people with new technologies and evidence-based learning methods that will help the next generation of students excel locally and globally. Education will focus on solutions-based and socially relevant instruction. The reimagined Ahfachkee School would serve as a model for the 183 tribal schools currently serving more than 40,000 students throughout the United States. It could also serve as a model for indigenous populations all across the world and be adapted to educational contexts across the socio-economic spectrum for students worldwide.

“We are excited to be working in partnership with the Seminole Tribe of Florida on a super school that challenges traditional models of education and focuses on unique and innovative approaches to learning,” said Laura H. Dinehart, executive director of the School of Education and Human Development in FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education.

The XQ proposal reimagines Ahfachkee in both methodology and structure. Gone will be long corridors and classrooms filled with rows of desk. Students will no longer move about at the ringing of a bell. Instead, their daily schedules will be defined by unique learning plans that combine fundamental education, community needs and individual career aspirations. Some days may be spent in flexible classroom spaces while others will have the students venturing out into the living laboratories of their local environment. Technology will enable students to roam the world, taking part in virtual field trips at FIU’s Aquarius Reef Base, research institutions throughout the United States, as well as history and art museums throughout the world.

“The XQ Project Super School is an outside of the box approach that is about breaking free of barriers,” said O’Hara Tommie, chief executive administrative officer with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Not only will students develop a deep understanding of learning standards, they will learn the required 21st century skills of collaboration and communication.

“In 32 years as an educator, unfortunately, I have seen improper execution of educational practices and principles. This project is a way to finally get it right,” said Brenda Gillis, retired elementary and secondary school administrator and XQ project coordinator. “Redefining high school for millennials, incorporating cause work, small teams, peer-instruction and service-focused pedagogy will change the way we teach by appealing to this generation of givers, volunteers and cause activists. Additionally, this transformational way of learning will heighten greater retention of concepts and ideals, foster critical thinking, and eradicate rote learning, as well as improve student entrepreneurial and employment opportunities upon graduation. By transforming Ahfachkee, we will show what is possible in education and blaze a trail for others to follow.”

XQ: The Super School Project was announced in September 2015 as an open call to rethink and redesign the American high school. Thousands of projects originally vied for the coveted XQ prize, but now only 50 remain in contention after two rounds of review. The Ahfachkee project is among those hoping to share in the $50 million that will be awarded in early August. The winners will be announced at 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 4.