Envision Academy Shapes College-Bound Storytellers and Achievers

April 15, 2016

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Since 2006, Envision Academy of Arts & Technology, a charter public school, has prepared high-school students to be effective and creative leaders by merging personalized curricula with adept storytelling in order to cultivate a project-based learning environment. Located in Oakland, Envision supports a predominately African-American and Latino student body of more than 400 students. The future-forward high school is a charter public school that focuses on helping traditionally underserved students to be successful in college, career and life. Each day, teachers and staff help students see that the work and choices they make contribute to their future.

What distinguishes Envision is their portfolio defense model (common in graduate programs) where students in their sophomore and senior years create, present and defend a portfolio, comprised of their cumulative knowledge and experience. Student portfolios are presented to a panel of teachers, peers and community members. Not only does this method ensure that students complete their college-readiness course requirements (for eligibility to attend a California State University), it also serves a model for the emerging classes, who subsequently learn from their peers by experience and example.

While the concept of education and presentation is the major part of the portfolio project, it is also included in all courses of study. For example, 11th graders recently interviewed immigrants and then composed and performed monologues of those interviews for the annual Immigrant Song Exhibition. Haley, an Envision sophomore, strongly believes "that project-based learning and presentations are preparing us for the real-world because we'll be required to use [these skills] in every field and aspect of our lives." "At Envision, my teachers are not only my educators, but people I trust and respect," said Haley. "They've become my second family."

Personalized Pedagogy is the Key to Success
At Envision, students receive personalized plans for their academic success. The school uses an Advisory System, with advisors straddling the roles of educator and coach, offering personalized lesson plans to ensure that students learn at their own pace, readying them for their defense presentations.

"We have a strong community of students, community and staff," said Laura Robell, principal. "We are united around our vision and mission, and I love that [the students] feel success in their lives." The tight-knit community and small student body population allows for a one-to-one faculty/student relationship of coaching and development, and the teachers are dedicated and invested. As a result, 79 percent of students are accepted to four-year colleges.

"It's really easy to talk about urban schools from a deficient lens, or talk about students with a lack of access," said Catherine MacDonald, who's been teaching performing arts to sophomore students for three years. "However, one of the best things about Envision is that our teachers look at what kids bring to every situation. All of us focus on the strengths."

Unlike her previous experiences, what MacDonald loves most about Envision is how she can see the positive effects of advisor investment in her students as they move from class to class, teacher to teacher. The carry-over benefits are palpable and inspiring, and they motivate the community to work harder and deepen the bonds that drive student achievement.

Envision Academy is one of three Bay Area schools in the Envision Education network. The mission of Envision Education is to transform the lives of students, especially those who will be first in their families to attend college, by preparing them for success in college, career, and life.