As colleagues and I planned and opened The Mosaic Collective, several renowned educational leaders advised.

Yong Zhao helped us dream big. Instead of tweaking the current model, he prompted us to redesign, reimagine what public school could look like. Tim Kubik and Kristy Lathrop shared the power of real PBL – not “doing” projects but using projects as the learning. Karl Fisch, our fellow public school colleague, shared his vision of public schools evolving in order to truly serve our students in the modern world (a belief he keeps fighting at his comprehensive, neighborhood public high school). Michelle Baldwin (and Anastasis Academy) reminded us that each student has a distinct identity and they must be at the center of any school design – “Students with names.”

Two gentlemen, each with their distinct views and personalities, may have left the most enduring impacts, and continue to work with students and staff as we evolve as a program. Will Richardson, reminds us that learning is everywhere. That standards create obstacles to the more important application and amplification of learning. And Gary Stager reminds us that the best learning happens by doing (and that assessment must change dramatically).

We value these voices, and connect regularly (well…semi-regularly) with each.

Recently, a new voice impacted my thinking. A student – a non-Mosaic public high school student. An athlete. A simple question while she waited for a ride home from tryouts. An inane conversational starter led to some serious reflection and a revelation.

School should look like 4H.

While growing up in Sedalia, a rural community in Douglas County, CO with “more livestock than people”, Julie participated in 4H. It led her to participate in several shooting competitions, including air pistol and shotgun categories, but it also allowed her to explore various interests including rocketry, welding, agriculture, and mechanics to name a few. Her only regret? Time. Too many evenings and weekends dedicated to 4H forced her to miss other childhood experiences.


ME: Julie, wouldn’t it be cool if school looked more like 4H?

JULIE: You mean learn by actually doing?

ME (To Myself): Gary Stager – have you heard of 4H? (To JULIE): Yeah. Choose something to learn and do it. Fly rockets. Weld something.

JULIE: Yes! Do something until you realize you don’t love it. Or “master” it. Then choose something else.

ME: Yeah.

JULIE: That would be awesome!

ME (To MYSELF): School should look more like 4H.


In years past, I have neglected to see the value of 4H in terms of a “formal” education. Failed to see the connection. But lately, seeing students struggle to use interests to drive their academic pursuits leaves me…befuddled and sometimes distressed. The conversation with Julie never devolved into concerns or questions about testing, grades or credit toward graduation, college and scholarship applications (except to note that as a sophomore, she has amassed a tidy sum in scholarship money due to her 4H competitions).

Instead we talked about what she learned while studying rocketry and welding. How much she enjoyed learning with the help of expert mentors. An I noticed her smile – her joy – while telling her stories. Until…she acknowledged the time spent outside of school learning all of this. The choices and sacrifices she made on behalf of her 4H participation.

I can’t think of one legitimate reason school couldn’t or shouldn’t look more like 4H. Can you?