Season 4: Episode 5 – A School of Our Own – Interview with Samuel Levin and Susan Engel [Podcast]

In today’s episode, we are speaking with Samuel Levin and Susan Engel, co-authors of A School of Our Own The Story of the First Student-Run High School and a New Vision for American Education.  Sam is the founder of two innovative, student-centered programs at his school in Massachusetts – Project Sprout and the Independent Project. He is a graduate of Oxford University, where he is pursuing a doctorate in zoology. Susan Engel is a professor of developmental psychology at Williams College, where she is also the founder and director of the Williams Program in Teaching. She is the author of several books and a co-author, with her son, of A School of Our Own. She lives in New Marlborough, Massachusetts.

A School of Our Own tells the remarkable story of the Independent Project, the first student-run high school in America. Founder Samuel Levin, a high school junior who had already achieved international fame for creating Project Sprout—the first student-run farm-to-school lunch program in the United States—was frustrated with his own education and saw disaffection among his peers. In response, he lobbied for and created a new school based on a few simple ideas about what kids need from their high school experience.

Here is what we talked about:

  1.  Give us some background on the Independent Project and how your first project, the Sprout Project, influenced you to create your own school.
  2.  Share with us a typical day at the Independent Project.
  3. We talk a lot about learner agency in our context. You talk about the lack of autonomy in your HS as a driving force in your decision to create your own school. What role did autonomy play in the Independent Project? Can you share a story that could bring that idea to life for our listeners?
  4. In the few years we have been doing our work in Salisbury, we’ve learned the importance of listening to learner voice. What suggestions would you give to us and other school leaders about leveraging student voice for transforming our schools?
  5. How do we help adults (teachers/parents) understand that school can be so much more than something we endure? How do you respond to push back – kids are incapable of taking ownership of their own learning? What do adults fear?
  6. How do you feel that your work in the Independent Project prepared you for Oxford and life beyond?
  7. What’s happening now with the Independent Project?  What’s next for Sam and Susan? What are you working on?

Join in the conversation!

  1. What might your learners change about the way they learn if they could?
  2. How would your school transformation give learners autonomy?

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