Projects, Design Thinking and SEL Done Well at Milton Hershey School
Imagine a boarding school in rural Pennsylvania dedicated to serving students as young as age four.
Imagine this school has innovated the learning experience for students to include STEAM, design thinking and project-based learning.
Imagine that the school also has unique support systems to focus on important social and emotional skills proven to lead to successful college and career outcomes.
Thankfully this school really does exist.
Milton Hershey School (MHS) was founded in 1909 by chocolate maker Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine. MHS is a private boarding school where the cost is free for those students who qualify.
Famous graduates include Garry Gilliam, a Seattle Seahawks football player who graduated from Penn State with three majors; and Deesha Dyer, the current social secretary at the White House, is also a graduate of the school.
Current enrollment is approximately 2,019 students from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. The school’s curriculum pillars include design thinking, project-based learning and STEAM as well as the inclusion of social and emotional learning as a key component of academics and the overall school community.
I recently had the chance to interview Dr. Jaunine Fouche, Curriculum Supervisor, from MHS. Dr. Fouche was awarded the 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) by President Obama, and shared with us the four pillars that make Milton Hershey School unique and successful.
1. Students Learn Content Through Projects
The curriculum team of teachers and leaders are committed to design thinking and project-based learning as a way to teach deep content knowledge.
“We have committed to the application of content knowledge through project-based learning. That has manifested as design thinking opportunities and project-based and performance-based exhibitions,” Dr. Fouche said.
“What we have committed to is student choice and student voice, exploring what they can do with what they know. We are really embracing the individual application of the individual content and skills.”
The school encourages teachers to not just incorporate that into the written curriculum but also outside of the curriculum.
2. Teachers Have Access to Innovative Professional Development
Professional development models the way teachers are interacting and working with students.
Dr. Fouche said, “We have embraced professional development that involves design thinking processes. For teachers, open-ended passion, play and purpose can feel unfamiliar so providing ‘just in time’ learning is important.”
MHS educators who are leading innovative PD help teachers build the capacity and engage authentically in their own learning.
3. Students are Prepared for Novelty and Authenticity
As the team at Getting Smart has been writing about the need to prepare students for a new economy and a work world that is constantly changing, we asked Dr. Fouche how MHS prepares students for novelty and authenticity.
Dr. Fouche said, “I talk with the teachers all the time about novel and authentic opportunities. We cannot be reiterating the same thing to students. We need to un-silo the learning.
“One questions we are asking is: ‘How do you help artificial intelligence (AI) navigate problems that are not definable?’ We talk about 21st-century skills, including problem solving, creativity and more collaboration between teachers and students.”
4. The School Community Has Strong Emphasis on SEL
Much is being written at Getting Smart about the importance of noncognitive skill development or social-emotional learning (SEL), and MHS also exemplifies this.
As the SEL curriculum supervisor, Deanna Slamans is also a graduate of the school. She enrolled at the school at a young age and has the personal experience of breaking the cycle of generational poverty in her family. She became a houseparent to help mentor students in student homes as well.
Deanna said, “I’m excited that MHS is on the cusp of something very powerful in the area of postgraduate success. I believe that the level of engagement that SEL skills topics provide for our adults and students creates an even deeper meaning for our students’ journeys while they live and learn at our school. We already equip our students for postsecondary studies. SEL skills allow us to continue to give them skills for careers and lifelong success.”
Deanna is hopeful and believes MHS is breaking new ground in college and career readiness and said, “I believe that schools need to be prepared for a blend of SEL skills teaching (direct skill instruction within a classroom-type setting) and a culture where SEL becomes part of the culture of a school’s climate.
“In other words, a curriculum is not going to do everything because children need space to practice those skills and opportunities to fail and learn and grow. The best impact that can be made is when SEL is integrated into content areas (mathematics, history, science, reading, etc). Teachers are masterful at utilizing text and content areas to discuss these vital skills.”
For more, see:
- Passionate + Flexible = Key Traits of Great PBL Teachers
- Preparing Teachers for Project-Based Learning
- Teaching is a Project-Based Profession: 10 PBL Teacher Mindsets
- Project-Based Teaching: The Untamed Spaces of Innovation
- What We are Doing to Ensure High-Quality PBL for All
- It’s a Project-Based World. Let’s Prepare Students for It
- Promising Practices in Equity and Project-Based Learning
This blog is part of “It’s a Project-Based World” series. To learn more about this series and to learn ways that you can contribute, click the icon below to go to the Project-Based World page.
Join in the conversation at #projectbased.
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Rocco (sponcer of my son at MHS, & a former student '75-'80)
I just wanted to THANK you for your blog on what is, in my humble opinion, the best school in the entire world, Milton Hershey School. My son will graduate class of '18. The changes in him, in the 5 years he has been enrolled are astronomical. But completely expected.
I also thought it would be pretty ok to be the FIRST post on this blog. (could that be more of the humbleness? lol
John Cleaver, Class of '54 MHS
This is, without a doubt, the greatest school in the world for all who attend and complete the education
offered by the school!!!!
MY CHILDREN ARE BLESSED TO GO HERE AND LOVE IT!!!
I have applied for my daughter an pray she can be a part of this exceptional learning institution.
We have been blessed that two of my children are enrolled. One who graduated this year from MHS. My daughter will be in the class of 22. It's the best thing that ever happened for them. God Bless MHS.
So blessed to MHS, this is the best fit and decision for prepatory education ifor my child. We have been a MHS family through the senior division, and this year (2020) my son will graduate and have all the tools he will need in his everyday life tool box, and the greatest gift of being given the opportunity and guidance to persue his passion in college. Thanks to all who work so hard for the student(s) at MHS.
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