Making the Grade: Bill Baker
Bill Baker spends his days (and nights) in the Summit Education Center (the former Silverthorne Elementary School) encouraging, instructing, counseling and befriending local high-school-age students who have become frustrated or overwhelmed by the traditional school environment.Under Baker’s direction, the Twilight alternative education and dropout retrieval program has been up and running since last year, providing individualized attention to students who left high school without a diploma.Inspiration: Education is the family business. My father was a university English professor. I grew up with a belief that education was a noble, valuable and meaningful mission in life.I became interested in alternative education because for many, education can seem so ignoble, valueless and meaningless. I have met so many brilliant folks – old and young – who suffered in traditional academic settings and thrived in nontraditional ones. It is good to be respectful of the different ways people learn.
Alternative students don’t put up with a lot of phoniness or nonsense from teachers or anyone else, for that matter. That is what makes it exciting for everyone. After a while, you develop a knack for working with people and in situations outside of the norm.Motivation: Young people have tremendous energy that may be impulsive but also honest. It is an honor to be given the trust of families and it is gratifying to see students improve on their skills, but I just like the energy. I never look at the clock and wonder why it goes so slowly.For a service project in a Civics class we loaded a truck for a Native American charity. One student asked, “Where does all this stuff go?” Students turned that question into their own study about Native Americans and eventually went to a Navajo reservation in Arizona where they unloaded some of the same trucks they loaded in Colorado.These were pretty unmotivated students. They taught me that, when students want to learn for their own purposes, there is no stopping them.Philosophy: I try not to ask too many questions I know the answers to. I ask genuine questions that are just outside the edge of a student’s comfort zone. I believe it is more important to learn to think than to know the “right” answer.
Modern challenges: Education is more political today than ever before. Many actors on the scene don’t know anything about education but influence policy, and many mandates have nothing to do with good education.There is pressure for a homogenization of instruction that is unhealthy.Heroes: I am inspired by the army of colleagues with whom I have worked over 20-plus years.
If I had $100,000: More experiential learning opportunities and a recruiter to find the many young people in our community who have given up on school. Extracurricular: Kayaking, tele skiing, bicycling.Students would be surprised to know: I got kicked out of high school (for passing out leaflets protesting high school students’ denial of first amendment rights to pass out leaflets).
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