Authentic Experiential Learning Transforms Students at Clearwater High School in STEM - Changing Perceptions About What it Takes to Succeed

Clearwater High School in Pinellas County, Florida is the most diverse High School in the district. It has a 52% Minority population and 58% of students overall are listed as Economically Disadvantaged. The Career Academy for International Culture and Commerce recently achieved “Model” Status from the National Career Academy Coalition and school has earned a “B” designation from the State of Florida. It boasts an almost 95% graduation rate with 82% of the graduating class receiving at least one college credit. Some principals would be content with those achievements. But, Principal Keith Mastorides observed that despite the good work that was happening in the school, some groups of students were being left out. Hispanic, African American, and low socio-economic students were not participating in leadership opportunities on campus as compared to other groups. He also discovered that project-based learning (PBL) was not used in every classroom. because some teachers believed that PBL was only for high achievers or fluent English speakers. Mastorides knew that he needed to do something to motivate students to engage in leadership activities and at the same time encourage teachers to have a growth mind set as it applied to student achievement.

Principal Mastorides called a meeting of his leadership team to brainstorm ideas for how they could change that paradigm. “We created a project-based personalized learning opportunity for students, that we felt had untapped leadership qualities. We call it the Civil Rights Tour. Students research and create an experience that encompassed real-world occurrences that connects them to the Civil Rights movement in the United States. This allows students to have a deeper understanding of the Civil Rights movement in the United States,” Mastorides explained. The culmination of this project is an in-depth tour of sites with historical significance for the Civil Rights Movement. The students research and set up interviews with individuals who participated or witnessed these important events. No professional tour guides are hired. Students are responsible for all aspects of the tour including budget, accommodations, schedule, and transportation. After participating in one of these tours, students are encouraged to become “change agents” on our campus by leading cultural competence training and developing collaborative awareness and structures for all of our students. They also participate in peer-to-peer mentoring as Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

Principal Mastorides recalled the program’s impact on one student, “There was a young man who had difficulty adjusting to high school. He came into our school with poor presentation and speaking skills. Some staff did not see him as a leader. He also had some disciplinary and grade issues. When he was invited to join the Civil Rights Tour, several teachers came forward and thought that he was not a ‘good fit.’  But, I believed it was the perfect opportunity for him.” It wasn’t long before everyone saw a transformation in the young man, Mastorides recalled, “Participation in the Civil Rights Tour changed him. Suddenly he started speaking up and asking for help. He wanted to improve his presentation skills so that he could communicate the importance of that time and those leaders to others. He participated on several student panels and presented at Project Graduation through the United Way Foundation, and he was the keynote speaker at the school’s student-led Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's Commemoration event. At the end of his senior year, he was chosen as the Area 2 Youth Outstanding Volunteer of the year, and he recognized for having the strongest Power Talk, “Growing Greatness” at the National Career Academy Coalition Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.”

The Civil Rights Tour exemplifies NSOP 7, “Teaching and Learning” which reads in part “…Learning illustrates applications of academic subjects outside the classroom, incorporates current technology and 21st Century Skills, and includes authentic project-based learning.”

In the second year of the Civil Rights Tour, Mastorides notes changes in both students and teachers, “We have seen a significant increase in the number of students in our sub populations occupying leadership roles on our campus. We have also seen a significant number of teachers across our campus utilizing project-based, personalized learning opportunities for all of our students. There is a mindset now that all children can achieve if we give them the same opportunities. But the overarching goal of this program is for our community to preserve, promote and perpetuate the importance of the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.”  The Civil Rights Tour also seems and excellent example of how project-based learning and the career academy model not only makes learning relevant for students but can be a vehicle for community learning.




Case Story: 007

These Case Studies were collected at the 2018 NCAC Model Principal Collective, and compiled by Constance Majka (NCAC). The Model Principal Collective was attended by principals of NCAC Model Academies from across the country and sponsored by the Turner Family Foundation, Harold K. L. Castle Foundation, Hawaii USA Credit Union, Deloitte, First Tennessee Bank, and the College and Career Academy Support Network. Thank you to all of our sponsors and the Model Academy Principals who participated and shared with us!