The staff at Bricolage Academy in New Orleans believes deeply in Whole Education. Children don’t learn deeply unless their hearts and bodies are engaged, along with their minds.
But ask Founder and Executive Director Josh Densen if he sees all four domains as equally important and he answers without a beat of hesitation:
“I believe in educating the whole child. But everything needs to be anchored in student achievement.”
In Densen’s view, education fails if it does not prepare young people to succeed in the world outside school walls. And while project-based learning and personalized learning are important concepts, they need to be infused with rigor if they’re to carry real meaning.
An educated person should leave school with myriad options and opportunities. That means being academically prepared for the challenges he or she will face in the real world.
“Not every kid has to go to college, but every kids should have the opportunity to go to college,” Densen says. “And academics are what provide those opportunities.”
It will be a decade before Bricolage has students old enough to take the ACT. But Densen wants his students to achieve a composite score of 25 on the ACT, which measures college readiness.
An ACT score of 25 demonstrates that a student is college-ready, and should have a shot at admission to at least a moderately selective college or university.
How does Bricolage plan to get its students over that relatively high bar – especially kids from low-income backgrounds? That’s where the social-emotional learning pieces complement the academic.
“Social-emotional learning aligns with academics in fostering agency and autonomy,” is how Densen explains it.
“We believe kids can solve their own problems, with academics, and with each other.” That means the school doesn’t dish out extrinsic rewards, or punishments for that matter. Motivation must come from within.
Teachers help students develop agency and autonomy but helping them learn how to manage ambiguity. This is a key piece of the Bricolage approach.
“We aim to provide enough structure so kids feel safe, but not so much that there’s no risk involved,” Densen says.
In the school’s innovation class, it’s common for a teacher to say to a student, “we don’t know how this thing is going to go, but let’s give it a try.” Failure is more than OK: it’s a positive sign that a student is stretching, taking risks, learning new things.
“True innovators are always out there, exposed, managing uncertainty, knowing that things will always change,” Densen says. “We tell our kids and teachers that everything doesn’t have to be perfectly executed, and that’s counterintuitive in a school.”