“People believed we were successful because we were working with middle-class white kids in Marin County,” he said. “And frankly I got tired of hearing it. I didn’t believe it.”
In 2002, Lenz founded Envision Schools to bring the approach to students who were likely to be the first in their family to go to college. Kids from families lacking college backgrounds are far less likely than their affluent peers to persist past their first year.
Today, Envision comprises a three-school network of Bay Area public charters and a consulting division that works with hundreds of schools in eight states. Early results are promising.
Two-thirds of Impact’s 465 students quality for free- or reduced-price lunch and 70 percent would be the first in their family to go to college. Three-fourths are Latino or African American.
On average, students are reading two grade levels behind when they start ninth grade. Fewer than one in five is proficient in algebra.
Generally, just 10 percent of youth from this demographic who make it to college re-enroll for a second and third year. Persistence rates among students who start at four-year colleges and universities are much higher than those who begin their studies at two-year institutions.
But beginning with its first graduating class in 2012, all of Impact’s graduates meet the stringent entrance requirements for California’s four-year public colleges. Ninety percent go on to higher ed, with 70 percent enrolling in a four-year school.
And Impact is refining as it grows up: 70 percent of the 2008 and 2009 classes have either graduated from college or are still working toward degrees. The rate has risen to 85 percent for subsequent classes.
Impact Principal Sean McClung attributes the graduates’ ability to stay in college to the school’s “culture of revision.” Among other elements, a graduation portfolio contains five “artifacts,” for example. Students work on at least two artifacts a year for two years.
“We don’t just give you a D and move on,” McClung said. “We give you support to do better.”
In teacher Lindsey Dodge’s 12th-grade advanced digital media arts class, Daniel Zamora spent the fall working on a self-portrait and accompanying artist’s statement in which he was asked to showcase his skills in a range of areas including art history and self-expression.
With a monochromatic palette, the digital portrait depicts Zamora as moodier than he seems in real life. The work was inspired by the styles of Renaissance painters.
Like his classmate Wellington, Zamora’s senior presentation will have to demonstrate mastery in four areas: research, inquiry, analysis, and creative expression. Students must display their sources of information and their evaluation of their credibility.
As he worked, Zamora exchanged feedback via instant messages with a classmate. He won’t have to present the portrait-and-essay combo until next spring, and he is not worried about scrutiny.