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  • Writer's pictureElliot Washor

Elliot Washor's TGIF 5.12.2023

“Are you with me now?” AJ Ryder


I’ve been in Australia for a week visiting the Central Coast Sports Academy, a Big Picture School and spending 3 days at the Big Picture AU Conference near the towns of Gosford and Woy Woy (Woy Woy means Deep Water in an Aboriginal Language). What is going on down under is just incredible. It was around 2006 that BPL started in Australia. Viv White invited me, then principal of MetWest Eve Gordon and two students. Our trip lasted around two weeks. Now there are over 50 Big Picture schools in Australia with high fidelity to the design and lots of innovation coming out of those schools that are being shared with us. Co-directors Viv White and John Hogan and all their staff working from both in and out of schools have done amazing work. We have schools in some of the most remote communities in Australia and in the world where there are Aboriginal people still alive who are first contact with Europeans. And from this work we also have innovations like the International Big Picture Learning Credential (IBPLC) that has the support of universities and the government. As many of you know the IBPLC is a gamechanger in assessment. The newest research on it shows:

“The initial results of this Longitudinal Study of BPLA University Pathway Students indicating that the use of IBPLC is showing to be an authentic way of assessing student learning for their future and be predictive of success of university candidates in terms of tertiary readiness through to completion of a course of study.”

That’s mouthful and one that shows our students getting into medicine, engineering and architecture are completing and not only that they are non-traditional in these fields – women and Aboriginal students.

How this has happened is a great story told not just by us but by third party evaluators. One secret in getting non-traditional students into the STEM fields is that our women at BPL schools are entering through their interest in sports to sport medicine to medicine. This is obvious to us but not to others. Hmm?

Over these last 15+ years our exchanges with BPAU have been extraordinary. It is a testament to developing a design from a practice that everyone has engaged in for all the right reasons. From showing a way to have schools in communities where ‘every student is the curriculum and the entire community is the school’ to responding to a strong commitment to diversity and equity our entire staff and student body is committed to both at the same time. All this work goes hand in glove by not holding onto just single narratives. The entire school design is in play.

During my time, I met with incredible staff and students who were doing things we must bring to the US around assessment, healthy living, equity and more. Two examples are: Starting the first two hours of school with physical activity and; Having meals prepared that are full of tasty plant-based options. My time with students was the best part of the day both in school and at the conference. A few new expressions I picked up on from Aboriginal students were Learning Through Country and Learning Through Community. As on Kauai, attachment to the land ( 'āina) is a grounding experience and like on Kauai people don’t want to leave the place they are from. In fact, one story told to me was about an isolated community in Finland of Indigenous people (The Sami) where like in so many places young adults go off to college and never return. The program teaching them how to leave was called Learning to Leave. Of course that’s not what we meant but it was a good reminder how Indigenous communities lose their culture and community. To counter this trend, Aboriginal students in BPL schools learn how to stay and thrive in their communities doing what they love to do. There were so many great stories coming out of our time together that really all I can say is what I heard Lakers Coach Darvin Ham say after the game today, “I’m just happy to sit in this seat and enjoy the ride.”

A few more things:

Here’s a great article about a B-U Center starting up at board member David Gersten’s place Arts Letters and Numbers (ALN) in Averill-Park near Albany -

At the conference in Australia and in Learning to Leave there were lots of references to fitting and how schools don’t go out of their way to fit each and every student. When I look at this famous Tetris quote my interpretation is about how you may lose yourself if you try to fit into a place that you don’t fit into. This week there was a 20th anniversary commemoration of Met Sacramento at the Sacramento City Council. At the ceremony, longtime advisor Phillip Rosoff-Horne talked about the first years of the school where he and others thought of themselves as the then current movie, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Island of Misfit Toys. My take is that it was a good thing we didn’t fit in and because we didn’t, we didn’t disappear. Congratulations to all involved over all these years for having a BPL school thrive in Sacramento for 20 years. Spending weeks and years in Sacramento, I can personally attest to how hard it was to get started and the struggles to stay open when so many were highly doubtful of a BPL school.

Be well!

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