What if school were open from 5am to midnight? That is, what if school was open for 19 hours a day? Well, anytime I have brought that up, people in education have dozens of reasons why it can’t be. Anything from those hours are not humane to it’s just not possible. None of the answers have ever sounded convincing. What’s more is that everyone is looking at it from the perspective of his or her own lives, not the people schools serve. Most of the reasons I have heard have to do with not wanting to work longer hours, there’s not enough in the budget, or there just aren’t enough people.
I beg to differ though. I think everyone is reading into the question the wrong way. When people talk about extending the school day, it’s often to extend classes, make them longer, extending the teacher work day, or adding more class time. But that isn’t the only way to design a 19-hour school day. When I was in 7th grade, my dad enrolled me in a martial arts school. I went to about one class a day that ran about 60-90 minutes. I absolutely loved it. As the weeks went on, I started showing up a little earlier to warm up on my own and practice. I would then stay a little later so that I could get in a little extra practice time. Then one day I finally decided to ask the instructor (owner) if I could come in during non-class times to practice. And what he told me I would never forget. He said I am a student at his school and this is now my school. I am not just welcome for class, but at anytime. As long as the doors are open, I am welcome to come by, practice, talk to him, or just hang out. Essentially, he said this was my second home and I should feel welcome. So I did just that, I started showing up anytime I wanted. On days off from school I spent several hours there practicing, talking to Master Lee, and reading the martial arts magazines. It was pretty awesome!
So here’s why I bring that story up. Why can’t school be like that? Why can’t we keep it open until late? And not just with certified, salaried teachers, but with passionate professionals that come to hang out after hours? In fact, turn it into a co-working space after hours for burnt out professionals to come pursue their passion projects in an energizing environment. Let them use the wifi, tables, desks, and white boards. Imagine putting passionate entrepreneurs together with the uninhibited and unrestricted minds of teenagers in a collaborative space? And why can’t kids just hang out at school with their friends, get a bite to eat, play games, and simply just enjoy the space for socializing? Isn’t that better than some of the other options kids have? For some it would be the only positive option. We often tell kids what not to do, but forget to offer ideas and pave the way for better alternatives.
The school space can serve so many purposes and we just haven’t looked at it that way. When you look at it as a hot bed for talent development, all of a sudden the school becomes a co-working space, a maker space, an incubator, a collaborative space, and so much more. Kids can then learn just as much from members of the local community as they learn from classroom teachers. We all understand the power of mentorship, guest speakers, etc. The problem is we haven’t designed a situation that integrates that activity all of the time. Well, here is one way to do that.
And this 19-hour space should also have a mini-turf field, a basketball court, and a weight room. Many tough lessons are learned on the field or blacktop, so let’s make sure classrooms aren’t the only place learning can take place. If kids want to play ball until midnight, let them. Invite professionals in the area to come out and play too after they get out of work. Let the kids organize their own games and maybe even leagues.
Design the space and provide the availability for all of this awesomeness to occur. With thoughtful and forward-thinking design at the heart of school design, we can create the conditions for and position students to develop amazing talent and become passionate learners and doers. Just think, going to school will never mean the same thing again.