KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Angela Poe Russell: The bold policy every school should adopt now

Mar 20, 2024, 7:43 AM | Updated: Mar 27, 2024, 1:52 pm

school students cliques...

Mercer Island High School marching band (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

It’s a theme in movies that’s so cliché: Teenage students in cliques. The jocks, the drama kids, the band geeks, the nerds and then the dreamy guy or girl.

Last I checked, most kids actually don’t fit into a single box, and the problem with putting them there is it can be hard to climb out of.

What’s most infuriating? The schools themselves and the systems around them perpetuate these silos.

Yes, schools are part of the problem

The good news is schools also have the power to fix it, if they are willing to put aside their own agendas and prioritize students. The solution? Stop forcing kids to choose and specialize.

High school is when this pressure to choose really ramps up. But a kid’s teen years are supposed to be a time of exploration. But the experience for the majority of kids is that they have to find “their thing” and work on “that thing” so they can be the best at “that thing,” so their school can compete and win using “their thing.” As a result, they never get to try anything else.

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Now look, it’s awesome when kids have their thing — their skill, their school subject, their sport, their hobby they can obsess over. But what if trying something else actually made them better?

There’s a book out on this topic with a ton of research behind it called Range, written by David Epstein. The premise is that keeping a broad range of interests improves performance later in life. He points out the most impactful inventors cross domains rather than deepening their knowledge in a single area.

It made me think about Albert Einstein, a musician himself, who said the greatest scientists are always artists as well. The great painter Leonardo da Vinci contributed to the study of the nervous system. And the man behind the Morse code and the telegraph was also an accomplished artist.

One of the hottest comedians right now, Trevor Noah, talked about this concept in a recent interview.

“I always feel that every discipline, whether it’s art or otherwise, can contribute or touch other disciplines in some shape or form,” Noah said in an interview with Esther Perel. “I don’t think you can talk about comedy without talking about psychology.”

You may be thinking that, with club sports and the rigor of high school, having more than a main interest just isn’t practical or possible. Trust me, I’ve heard it. But as the saying goes, where there’s a will there’s a way.

Schools adopting this practice

My daughter’s high school musical just wrapped and I was struck by the number of athletes who participated. I wanted to understand how this worked. Well, it is the school’s policy to encourage exploration as long as possible. I was told the theater department works with the athletic department to sync up schedules. And the coaches are flexible for important rehearsals and performances and vice versa. It’s adults working together for the benefit of the students. Imagine that.

This isn’t the only school to operate this way, but honestly, every student should have an opportunity to explore a wide range of interests. Think of it like cross-training for life. I totally get at some point in high school a student may need to specialize.

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But keep in mind, at least when it comes to sports, only 7% of high school students will play in college. What do we want the others to take away from those years? And how do they want them to show up in life?

Keeping kids in boxes isn’t a strategy that’s going to prepare them for a rapidly changing world. They need adaptability, critical thinking and resilience that develops when they step out of their box and ultimately out of their comfort zone. That’s where true learning begins and isn’t that our job to push them there?

Angela Poe Russell is a longtime Seattle media personality and a fill-in host for KIRO Newsradio.

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Angela Poe Russell: The bold policy every school should adopt now