Opening Yellow Parachute Academy in September has increased my ambition to create school change for our young people. (You’re thinking, “Increased?! You were pretty intense before!”)

Here’s why. While convicted to create a smaller, more personal learning environment for middle school kids, I hadn’t realized the powerful opportunity that creating a “whole” school day – rather than a fragmented bell-schedule – brings to teaching and learning.

What your kid might experience during a traditional day: Can’t find your history folder? No time to look; class is starting. Tough morning at home? Conflict with another kid? We’ll talk about it later. Time to learn. Think you left your earbuds in your last class? You’ve got 5 minutes to figure out when to backtrack – after you focus on practicing the commutative and associative properties of mathematics. Woops – you have 4 tests tomorrow. And if you miss anything, you’re responsible for figuring it out. Classes – and kids’ brains – keep the bell’s pace.

But what about a student’s personal pace? Problem-solving in a time-crunch can be hard to navigate for neurotypical kiddos, nevermind those challenged with ADHD, anxiety, trauma, a specific learning disability, or deeply-sensitive humans. Kids are asked to make decisions they haven’t practiced yet. And don’t get the chance to build systems and reflect on them. Kind of like training for a 5k cross country race and entering a steeplechase. And then someone asks, “Why didn’t you do well?”

I understand you may be thinking, “But that’s life; they have to figure it out.” My response is, “Yes — and no.” If we say, “learning is their job,” then we must give them every opportunity to do so. Train for a 5k and run a 5k – not a steeplechase – over and over again.

Kids need time to learn how to learn: problem-solve, try again, and see the big picture of their school experience as something over which they have control, rather than a fragmented series of schedules they’re pushed through: learn, pack-up, walk, unpack, learn.

Only when they get to see the big picture will they invest in understanding how to create a personal and successful learning experience.

In the whole-hearted pursuit of students’ investment in learning, I promise that we will use time differently at YPA.

YPA learners manage schedules, assignments, classes, due dates, and take time to listen to the teacher. But they also learn how their brains work and gain tools to help in the process. Then YPA coaches and volunteers conference with learners to help them choose the best time to do assignments, estimate how long it will take, and reflect on that estimate afterward. Coaches see students through the process of making a plan and checking it off step by step. And we see the authentic joy students experience when accomplishing these tasks.

And so when you ask, “How is Yellow Parachute Academy?” I will tell you that it is better than I ever could have imagined. It is a gift to be a part of the lives of our YPA students and families and help make lifelong change in the skills, strategies, and habits of our YPA learners.

We invite you to join us in the revolution.

Not at YPA? Here’s how you can look at the big picture of the school day:

  1. Purchase a planner. We like Passion Planners because they have both monthly and weekly views and plenty of space for writing.
  2. Block each week out into the classes that you have – color code for extra visual organization.
  3. For each class, plan to write: class name and title of lesson, 1-2 keywords from that lesson (you’re starting to study for those unit tests waaayyyy ahead of time!)
  4. Create a to-do list in the space below your planning and plan long-term projects on the monthly calendar.
  5. Make a daily habit of using your planner no matter what. Same time each day. Keep the promise to yourself. The time you take will pay off in work habits for life.

Need some ideas for planning? Try #pashfam for inspiration!