The Benefits of Student-Led Programs in High School

Students independently work on projects while getting feedback from their peers. Student-centered learning creates a space for students to learn from each other and use their own creativity.

Photo by Becca Petty

Students independently work on projects while getting feedback from their peers. Student-centered learning creates a space for students to learn from each other and use their own creativity.

Even in 2020, a standard learning environment is easy for many people to imagine: a teacher standing in front of the classroom, handing out a test where students’ success is based on the bubbles they fill in and the facts they can memorize. On a very different note, picture this: a teacher taking notes on a clipboard in the corner, intensely watching as her students lead a thought-provoking discussion about the class book, periodically interrupting with ideas and prompts. Picture a team where coaches are mentors and players work together to problem-solve, taking ownership of their own growth. Imagine electives that focus on the students, allowing them to explore their individual creativity in ways that contribute to the work of their peers. 

Student-led programs are an easy, yet non-traditional concept: they’re based on a learning style where the teachers conform to the needs of the student, letting them take charge of their own progress and find individual study styles that work for them. The end goal is a program/school system built on community and freedom with a “stronger connection between academic learning and real-world experience,” (Richmond par. 8). 

Students in schools that support student-led learning “exhibited greater gains in achievement than their peers, had higher graduation rates, were better prepared for college, and showed greater persistence in college.” ”

— Linda Darling-Hammond

Student-centered learning is a relatively new idea, but programs that use this style work well to prepare students for life outside of high school and help them gain valuable leadership skills that will bring success later in life. 

In terms of education, student-led learning has picked up steam as a way to better prepare students for life after graduation. According to Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, students in schools that support student-led learning “exhibited greater gains in achievement than their peers, had higher graduation rates, were better prepared for college, and showed greater persistence in college.” 

Through this learning method, students are able to dive deeper below the surface into the material that they learn; they can explore their interests by creating videos, art projects and conducting experiments that demonstrate their knowledge of a topic, as opposed to having a curriculum based on tests and quizzes. Students can learn in a way that fuels their passions and have a safer environment with less comparison and more community. 

Student leaders, however, aren’t just needed in the classroom. Electives and even sports programs have become a great area for teenagers to learn life skills while taking charge of their own progress. For example, beach volleyball at Sage Creek is a sport where the players heavily rely on their own intuition and their partner to win matches. At practices, coaches train the players and help them learn new skills, but when game day comes around, they aren’t allowed to speak to their players on the court. The partner teams have to work on real-time problem-solving skills to win each match and learn communication skills that are vital to life beyond high school. 

Photo by Becca Petty
Beach Volleyball is a partner sport that teaches athletes critical-thinking and communication skills. Pictured above is the net at Frazee Beach, where the Sage Creek team practices.

Another benefit to this style of teaching is the opportunity to learn from older students and athletes. In many electives like journalism and ASB, older students are elected as officers and editors. Younger students get the freedom of working on their own projects with the guidance of upperclassmen and support of their teachers. Using this system fosters the natural gifts that students and athletes already have while helping them discover themselves and work their personal growth. 

On the other hand, there are concerns with this system, especially in regards to education. Critics and educators believe that students who are already behind in school would fall even further behind their peers. It’s also a lot harder to logistically track the progress of students since standardized test scores aren’t available to record their progress, and there’s always the chance that students will not be self-motivated enough to stay on top of their learning. 

In contrast, there are many public schools that are symbols of success for student-centered learning. Even though there are many unknowns, switching things up might be worth the risk in schools where traditional teaching isn’t working. 

 Making the change from traditional teaching to student-centered learning is a risky move because there’s no way to tell how the students, faculty and community will respond. The schools that have made this change, however, have found it reap rewards in so much more than just education. Students are given a safe environment to fuel their passions and build their confidence. They experience learning in a way that connects to life outside of high school and prepares them for college, and they build a community while learning how to work with others. Student-led learning programs are a better way to prepare the students of today to become the leaders and visionaries of the future.