Empowering Student Voice with Passion Pursuit

During the 2021-2022 school year we created a  student-led think tank to reimagine school. This group researched educational practices, interviewed students, teachers and parents and, as a culminating project, proposed a number of innovations we might consider. We wanted to quickly implement some of these ideas to make changes in our school that would focus on a more student-driven model of education.  

As our elementary leadership team listened to suggestions from students in their Reimagining School presentation, what stood out to them was the recommendation to include “mixed age grouping” and “real voice and choice in following students’ interests.” We’ve always given students choices in our classes, such as giving them the option to select from different centers and activity menus, but the truth is that these were usually teacher-generated choices. We had two problems to solve: How could we include more student voices into our program, incorporating their outside interests into the school day? And with our schedules, how could we bring different age groups together? 

After much brainstorming, the elementary team decided to set up a weekly Passion Pursuit class, in which, every 8 weeks, students from across grades could explore an activity they had suggested.

Here are the steps they took:

  • Part of the ideas doc

    Ask for student input. First we gave students Post-It notes and asked them to write down anything they’d like to learn about. We also asked parents to give input on their children’s interests.

  • Choose the most popular classes. Next we accumulated all the ideas into one long 6-page document, tallying up student choices. From this list, we chose the most popular ideas. For each cycle we chose around eight options, such as chess, cooking, robotics, crochet, yoga, karate, Mandarin, and sign language. We then found teachers to lead the groups and asked students to sign up for their favorites. Classes run in cycles of 8-9 weeks and then we set up new ones.
  • Create multi-age groups. It was important to find a way to allow students to work with other age groups. To do this we decided that Passion Pursuit would take place in two separate blocks. One for first- through third-grade students and another for fourth- through sixth-grade students. This has been amazingly successful and it’s wonderful to see the kids interacting with different age levels and getting to know each other.

Student responses:

Students work on their passions everywhere! Here students are crocheting during recess.

Our students are excited about their classes and we see this enthusiasm spilling over into the rest of their school day. Teachers also love being able to share their personal interests with the kids. 

This is what students have to say:

  • “I chose this passion pursuit (robotics) because I want to challenge myself. I like it because I’ve learned that this is what I want to do when I grow up.”
  • “It’s so cool. I’m learning Mandarin!”
  • “I asked for sign language and I already know the alphabet.”
  • “I chose this class (art) because I draw everyday and I already decided that I want to be an artist.”
  • “I’ve learned to have new friendships, to work in teams, and to be happy.”
  • “What I like best is that I get to know more people in other grades.”
  • “In theater class, I’ve learned how to not be nervous in front of people.”
  • “I’m working with animals because I want to be a vet. I love this class!”
  • “I’m learning to cook. I’ve made rice, pesto, cookies and pizza so far. I’m cooking at home for my family and they like it!”

Passion Pursuit was a bit of work to set up…. But it’s well worth it!

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