What School Reforms Can Help Prevent Suicide?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Hanna approvingly forwarded me this email from Nicholas Lera, a teacher in the Menlo Park City School District, which is adjacent to Palo Alto:

In the video attached to Hanna Rosin’s recent article on suicides in the Palo Alto area, she mentioned a lack of a counter-culture. I think a small group of teachers at my school, Hillview Middle, is truly making a shift away from the traditional model of teaching and toward a paradigm that focuses on learning, curiosity, and collaboration. We are prototyping classroom management systems, assessment practices, project design practices, curriculum mapping processes, and all kinds of other teacher-speak things. Some of the particular practices include:

  • abolishing “D”s and “F”s and replacing scores below 70% with “Not Yet.” Some of us are pushing to replace the entire scale with mastery language.
  • gamification of language studies through a “Belt system” (Here’s an example:
  • optional community circles on Fridays
  • flexible deadlines for all assignments
  • grades only received on summative assessment; homework is not graded, but tracked.
  • genius hour/20% time

The biggest thing is this: We’re always thinking about innovation; we’re always prototyping; and at the heart of it, we’re all deeply invested in making the change we think is needed.

Welp, I feel like I barfed out semi-topical information ... and, I’m hoping Hanna is invested enough to answer a couple of questions for me. How do we go about growing a counter-culture within such a staid system? What role can students play in shifting what “school” means?

Are you an educator who wants to tackle those questions for us based on some reform you’re working on? Email hello@theatlantic.com. Also, this note presents a good opportunity to check in with our Education series called “The Art of the Lesson Plan.” The pieces thus far: