HIGHLIGHTING HAPPINESS: How to “trick” students into learning more

By: Andrew Campanella

 

Spring Hill High School’s theme-based curriculum relates subjects like English to student interests like exercise science, helping students get more excited about all kinds of learning.  

by Andrew Campanella with Savanna Buckner

Spring Hill High School has a nearly perfect high school graduation rate and was recently named one of the best schools in South Carolina.

You might expect the public magnet school’s success to be due to stringent academic requirements for incoming students. But you’d be surprised.

“The awesome thing with our graduation rate is that we have no academic requirements to get into Spring Hill,” the school’s founding principal, Dr. Michael Lofton, said. “It’s a purely random, computer-generated lottery. We take 200 students per grade level, and there’s no academic requirement, so we have everything from AP all the way to special needs co-taught classes here.”

Spring Hill High School offers all the normal high school classes: math, English, science, and social studies. But embedded in the classes is a radically different approach to education: theme-based learning.

The school groups students into classes according to which magnet focus they find most exciting: engineering, entertainment, entrepreneurship, environmental studies, or exercise science.

So, if you step into an English class at Spring Hill, you might find 25 students who all share a love of engineering.

“What the teacher does,” Dr. Lofton described, “is they take the state standard for that subject, and they know those kids like engineering, and then they teach through that lens.”

He continued, “What I tell the parents is that we just ‘trick’ students into learning more, because we know what their interest is, and they really tend to delve deeper into study if they enjoy it more and it’s something they want to relate to.”

Spring Hill High School’s core classes and electives also feed into the nearby Advanced Career and Technical Center, where students have access to a variety of study areas, from biological medicine to welding.

When I asked Dr. Lofton what students like best about Spring Hill, he said that would be the teachers, who are not only experts in their content area but also genuinely enjoy working with teenagers.

“We make learning relevant to the kids’ interests, and then the rigor comes after that,” he said. “Once you form connections and you make it interesting to those kids, they will go as far as you can push them.”

It’s all part of what Dr. Lofton calls the Spring Hill “WAY,” which refers to working with others, being academically focused, and being youth-inspired.

“We want kids to come here and meet friends from all over our community that they would’ve never known,” Dr. Lofton said. “And we obviously want students to be academically focused. Every school does, but here it means homing in on your interests.”

And being youth-inspired? That means students showing willingness to try things they feel hesitant about, either because of nervousness or because they don’t feel a spark of interest.

The Spring Hill WAY is helping students and staff set an impressive track-record. While Spring Hill was recently named one of South Carolina’s top schools, Dr. Lofton was recently named the 2018 National Magnet Principal of the Year.

Both awards are cause for celebration, showing how thoughtful educational leaders pave the way for student happiness and success.

“We don’t have a lot of people transferring,” said Dr. Lofton. “The expectations are to treat people kindly and to have great customer service and offer a good product, so kids keep coming back. It works.”

 

Read more: 5 Questions for Dr. Michael Lofton, Principal at Spring Hill High School