OUR LEARNING MODEL
The Nelson Mandela School for Social Justice provides a rigorous, culturally relevant, academic program that prepares students for the demands of college and careers. NMSSJ’s personalized approach to instruction challenges students to dream big and design their futures. It engages students in solving real-world problems and supports their individual progress and growth. NMSSJ students graduate confident in their ability to transform the world around them.
EPIC High Schools utilize a multi-layer approach to teaching and learning that involves students progressing based on what they know and can do, rather than the time they have spent in class. At EPIC, the focus of teaching and learning is to help students learn, practice, develop, and demonstrate 19 competencies that indicate their academic, personal and professional readiness. This approach is centered on clear, actionable learning targets—called attainments—that students use to create, apply, manage, understand, and critique information, solutions, and the world around them.
Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation. It involves a commitment to understanding individuals’ needs, recognizing that lived experience is legitimate and instructive, and building and revising solutions as needed to achieve increasingly better outcomes. Classroom learning revolves around the processes by which we seek to understand ambiguous problems and ideate solutions through empathy with the anticipated user, and this reflects the very design fellowship year EPIC’s school leaders spent building their schools together, with intent and iteration.
EPIC High Schools recognize that, in order to support students to become agents of their life paths, we must broaden the concept of college and career readiness beyond building content knowledge and academic skills to a more integrated approach that supports students to become successful and balanced adults. Concretely, this shift involves articulating a holistic set of academic, social and emotional skills, creating applied learning experiences that integrate these skills and mirror the world of work, assessing social and emotional skills alongside academic skills, and hiring staff with youth development experience to work alongside teachers to support social and emotional skill acquisition.
Culturally responsive education, a holistic approach that undergirds all others, is the simple but powerful contention that achievement is anchored not just in the building from one’s existing strengths but in full engagement of one’s self and lived experience. Advocates of personalized learning talk of meeting students where they are and success in EPIC High Schools spring just as much from meeting them who they are. Unlike loose interpretations that minimize the complexity and implications of culture and identity, EPIC’s approach centers the learner as an invaluable and intricately constituted subject. Within an EPIC school, the context, content, and means for learning may vary according to individual needs while the goal for self-awareness and connection is shared and consistent. EPIC High Schools understand and anticipate that an individual’s definition of self may expand, contract, and shift over time as social, personal, and academic identities emerge and develop.