Frederick's LYNX school could provide a next-generation high school model for Maryland

In September 2017, the LYNX (Linking Youth to New eXperiences) School at Frederick High School, in Frederick County, opened its doors for the first time. Envisioned as the “next generation” American high school, the LYNX School is a comprehensive public high school with a diverse student body. Students are not hand-selected; they come to the school by way of the normal feeder pattern. Minority students make up the majority of the student body: 40 percent Hispanic, 20 percent African American, 25 percent white, 7 percent Asian, 1 percent American Indian/Alaskan Native and 7 percent who identify as more than one race. Half of the students are from families that are economically disadvantaged.

The LYNX School has a number of unique features designed to enhance teaching and learning. Students begin to develop individualized Student Success Plans in the eighth grade. By the time the students arrive at the LYNX School as ninth graders, teachers and counselors have a clear picture of the knowledge and skills each student will need for success.

The LYNX School offers an expanded schedule. Students can arrive early and/or stay late to take an extra course, receive tutoring and instructional support, access online learning, pursue college credits or engage with business partners.

At most high schools, current career training typically evolved from old vocational-technical programs focused on limited apprenticeship trades and is treated as an alternative program for a small percentage of students. At the LYNX School, career training, which is part of the curriculum for every student, is driven by student interest and has been dynamically expanded to include the highly skilled occupations prized in the 21st century global marketplace.

Teaching and learning at the LYNX School is innovative. Every teacher received special training in competency-based instruction; the first cohort of students earned graduation credits by demonstrating mastery of skill rather than through a semester of seat-time. The role of teacher is expanding from lecturer to coach, project manager and research resource.

With its first year of operation complete, it is important to look at the results for LYNX’s pioneering ninth grade class. The positive impact on attendance has been significant, with a 93.5 percent attendance rate for school year 2017-2018 — the highest attendance rate ever for ninth grade students at Frederick High School. Significant attendance gains were also reported for English Language Learners and Special Education students, populations that traditionally struggle with low attendance in large comprehensive high schools.

The extended-day schedule was extremely popular. Over 9,000 dinners were served to students staying beyond the normal school day. A fifth learning block was available for students to earn extra credits. Forty-seven students earned credits beyond the ninth grade core curriculum. For the fall semester of school year 2018-2019, 54 students have enrolled in extended-day courses.

In the first year, 65 business partners signed on to provide career exploration activities. Every student participated in a school-based “new experience.” LYNX hosted 49 business speakers and 21 off-campus learning experiences. Every 10th grade student is being matched with a business partner to begin to develop the “soft skills” (attendance, time management, team building, business ethics) that are critical to workplace success and a prerequisite to internships, apprenticeships and other work-based learning experiences available to them in the 11th and 12th grades.

Buy-in from teachers was critical to the success of the LYNX School. Knowing that change can be stressful, teachers were given the opportunity to transfer to another school without consequence. Not one teacher requested a transfer. Teacher professional development has been extensive. Every teacher has received training in competency-based instruction and blended learning strategies. Eight teachers have been trained to teach online courses, and half of the teaching staff has been trained to connect LYNX students with business partners who can facilitate the achievement of each student’s success plan.

The goal is for every LYNX student to graduate on a trajectory toward a chosen career path, whether that path leads through college, career and technical training or some other workplace experience. The LYNX School is on track to accomplish this goal.

Parents, students, teachers and business partners are excited about the future of the LYNX School. Even parents outside of the LYNX feeder system have expressed the desire to move their high schoolers to the LYNX School. Now is the time for the LYNX experience to inform the work of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (the Kirwan Commission) and the legislature as they build a world-class career and technical education system for Maryland. It is time to see if the positive outcomes of LYNX can be sustained and successfully replicated in additional Maryland schools.

Nancy S. Grasmick (ngrasmick@towson.edu) is a presidential scholar at Towson University; James T. Brady (brady.james.t@gmail.com) is chairman of the Board of Regents for the University System of Maryland.

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