by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
Updated | 3:50 p.m.
The Philadelphia School Partnership announced Tuesday that it will donate $2.6 million in grant funding in the hopes of aiding the creation of 850 new seats in what it deems high-performing District, charter, and Catholic-run schools.
Building 21, a new District-run high school opening in the fall, will receive most of the funding: $2 million in startup cash over four years.
As a non-selective-admission high school, Building 21 will enroll 150 students into its 9th grade in the fall.
The school, which will be housed in the former Ferguson Elementary School in North Philly, will enroll 60 percent of its student body from those living in surrounding neighborhoods.
The remaining 40 percent of Building 21's seats will be open to citywide admission. All rising 8th graders are invited to apply to the school beginning Monday, March 24.
Building 21 is the brainchild of Laura Shubilla, the former president of Philadelphia Youth Network, a nonprofit that seeks to reduce the city's dropout rate and prepare students for the workforce.
"What I learned from that experience is how important connecting learning to the real world is to high school students," said Shubilla, who has been developing Building 21 as part of her doctoral work at the Harvard School of Education.
The school will reflect her central educational philosophy: With a stress on project-based "real world" learning, students will be assigned "competencies," and then be given leeway in how they prove their mastery of subject matter.
"High school graduation shouldn't be just be based on credits and courses," she said, "but actually skills and knowledge."
The Philadelphia School District's website describes Building 21's pedagogy this way:
The high school experience focuses on "learner as designer," where students create their own self-paced learning pathways and choose from a variety of instructional opportunities, including blended learning, problem-based learning and experiential learning. Traditional courses are re-organized into "studios" that are based on fields of study, such as journalism, environmental science, and finance. In studios, students have the opportunity to integrate content and apply their skills and knowledge to solve real-world problems.
Students applying to Building 21 must complete a one-page application. Shubilla says the school will keep kids no matter their academic performance.
"We have no plans to kick kids out because of poor academic performance. Our plan is to work with kids to get them where they need to be," she said. "The whole reason we're doing this is to bring kids in who have struggled in some cases and haven't necessarily found their place. We want to create a school where they can really be successful."
In July 2013, PSP announced it would pledge $50,000 to Building 21 for planning and design. That money has already been spent. (Building 21 also received a $100,000 grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges.)