INDIANAPOLIS–Purdue Polytechnic High School’s way of doing things could soon be an influence on schools around the state. The school’s executive director Scott Bess, was recently appointed to the Indiana State Board of Education. He’s leading Purdue Polytechnic to challenge students with unconventional teaching and thinking.
“I’m much more interested in educational reform at the classroom level,” he said. “What’s actually happening to every single student in the state in the classrooms they attend on a daily basis?”
LISTEN: Scott Bess talks about Purdue Polytechnic High School
At PPHS, the teaching may not be how you or your teachers did it, or even how they do it now where your kids go.
“Our basic thesis when we started the high school was if you’re going to try to get different outcomes, for students of color or low-income students, we had to fundamentally change what the high school experience looked like,” he said. “We started everything with the concept that students were gonna work on hands-on projects that involve the community.”
Bess said that means businesses and community organizations.
“Students were gonna work on real problems, not things out of a textbook.”
An example of one such project is in English, where students wrote about their own experiences and had those brought together in a book. In partnership with Eli Lilly, students in industrial studies students contemplated and studied how to extend the human life cycle world-wide, and pitched their ideas to Lilly.
The high school was started as a way to bring more people of color and low-income students in contact with Purdue University, said Bess, even though they are not obliged to attend the university upon graduation.
“It obviously offers a great opportunity. Students who meet certain criteria can get direct admission into Purdue, which means they go to the top of the line,” said Bess. He said the three campuses together enrolled over 900 in Indianapolis and South Bend last school year. He expects that to go up. Not everyone who is enrolled is low income.
“The question’s always been when you do something different is, is it working? We had our first graduating class last year. We had 113 graduates. Of those graduates, 48 of them got accepted into Purdue which is an extremely high number.”