ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

A Small School Takes Big Steps for the Whole Child

Post submitted by Whole Child Blogger Robyn Gee

What could prompt a high school student who once upon a time wanted to become an Egyptologist or a race car driver to decide in her senior year that she wants to become a teacher?

Maybe it's the fact that Janet Gil is a student at Quest Early College High School, which was recognized this year with the Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award.

Working in partnership with Lone Star College-Kingwood, students at Quest can earn a high school diploma while simultaneously earning an associate's degree or two years of credit toward a bachelor's degree. "We have structures that are very nontraditional, and not academic, in place at our school," said principal Kim Klepcyk. "We include some soft skills that other schools weren't attending to. Traditional schools say that they want students to be active citizens, but what does that mean? There's no way to assess these abilities."

Klepcyk was formerly the librarian at Quest and was inspired to become a principal. She mentioned the "Family" advisory program as one thing that makes their school culture unique. If bullying or even littering happens, students tell each other, "We don't do that here. That's not how we behave." Klepcyk attributes a lot of this to the community and team-building activities that happen within the families.

Klepcyk said that being principal of a school like Quest has made her a firm advocate for small schools. "I can turn my school on dime. I honestly can. When you're small, you have flexibility that you don’t have elsewhere," she said.

Gil said, "I was always the quiet kid, but because of family, everyone comes out of their shell. We lead activities and plan activities. I'm president of a club, and I organize things. I'm comfortable speaking with people now." 

Another component of a Quest student's education is the Service Learning Program. Every week, the school reserves time for students to go off campus and participate in service activities. They might go to a nursing home, help at a veterinary clinic, or even participate in a historical reenactment in a local park.

"My favorite service project was my senior year internship. I want to go into teaching, so I found a former teacher and interned with her," Gil said. "I helped create lesson plans, put labs together, and did activities. I got to teach—it was like being behind the scenes in teacher world." Students have even leveraged their internship work and gotten jobs.

Klepcyk also said learner behaviors are a key component of their standards at school. These are the tools students need to become lifelong learners, she explained. At Quest, teachers tie learner behaviors to specific assignments. In the assessment rubrics, it's not uncommon to see "restraining impulsivity" or "note-taking" as a skill on which students get evaluated.

They also really emphasize democratic citizenship at Quest, encouraging students to give feedback and raise policy issues. "We want them to know that if they see something wrong in their community, it's not up to anyone else; it's up to them to change it," Klepcyk said.

Hear more from Quest Early College High School on preparing students to be college-, career-, and citizenship-ready in the March episode of the Whole Child Podcast.

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