School Within A School
Celebrating 50 years of democratic education!
School Within A School (SWS) is a participatory democratic alternative program for approximately 120 sophomores, juniors, and seniors. It is located on the fourth floor of Brookline High School. SWS students take courses both in SWS and in the “main” high school.
In the spring of 1970, a small group of students, teachers, and parents began organizing an alternative school in Brookline where students would have a larger voice in their own education and a more personal, equal relationship with teachers. In the early years of SWS, students wanted to be as separate as possible from the High School. This attitude has changed. Students became interested in benefiting from the variety and scope of courses and activities in the high school. SWS became an alternative for all students who sought to participate in a democratic classroom and community.
SWS is a separate administrative unit for approximately 120 students, rather than a Dean’s office set up for each grade level as in the main high school. SWS is a voluntary program. Permission from a parent is required in order to enter. There is a lottery based on requirements set by SWS Town Meeting. Not all students can enter due to space considerations.
It is the goal of the staff in SWS to help students become responsible for their own education. To this end, the SWS Town Meeting serves as the major forum for shared decision-making in the areas of educational administration and educational policy. The weekly Town Meeting is mandatory for students and staff. Town Meeting serves as a forum for discussion and debate and for changes which are inevitable in a growing dynamic community. SWS gives students more freedom and more responsibility in directing their own education than is generally possible in the main school. Students have the chance to make their own education meaningful on their own terms, as long as they fulfill responsibilities to the SWS community. Students are responsible for their own attendance. They, not their parents, call in to report and explain an absence.
Six students and one staff member each quarter form The Agenda Committee which plans and runs SWS Town Meeting. Every student is eligible to serve on Agenda Committee which is chosen from a pool of volunteers.
The eight members of The Review Committee are responsible for reviewing the academic progress and well-being of students. The Committee meets with students referred by either staff or other students to discuss academic, social, and attendance problems. The Committee helps support students and ultimately decides whether or not a student should remain in SWS.
The heterogeneous semester-long English classes have students from all three grades. They function as writing seminars. Biology and Chemistry courses are traditional in content, cooperative and individualized in style, Social Studies courses include alternative perspectives in history. Students take all non-SWS courses in the main school.
The curriculum in SWS is academic. Certain classes in SWS do not have parallels or counterparts in the larger school, but just creating course content that is different from the main school has never been central a goal. While many of the courses cover traditional material such as Biology or U.S. History, instruction is more individualized. In all courses, students have some control over offerings and are encouraged to be involved in making decisions about the curriculum. In each class, students share responsibility for classroom management and attendance. SWS teachers and students seek a personal, engaging atmosphere in the classroom. Students are encouraged to participate actively in class. Students and staff also join each other in Town Meeting, SWS committees, college counseling and SWS activities. SWS teachers are particularly interested in getting to know their students both inside and outside the classroom.
The staff for SWS consists of nine people, some of whom have worked together for decades: a Biology teacher, a Chemistry teacher, three half-time English teachers, a Social Studies teacher, a half-time counselor, a half-time secretary, and a full-time coordinator/counselor.
The staff meets at least once a week to discuss philosophy, goals, course progress, student problems, curriculum and plans for upcoming events. Additional staff meetings take place for long-range planning, staff evaluation and coordination. This helps achieve a close, supportive working relationship and a smoothly functioning school.
The SWS Coordinator/Counselor functions as the administrator and counselor. He carries out policy decisions as directed by SWS Town Meeting. The Coordinator also answers directly to the Headmaster of the main school. The SWS staff works cooperatively to share administration, counseling and teaching whenever possible. SWS teachers do a great deal of informal counseling and share preliminary college counseling.
Town Meeting, our mandatory community meeting, takes place during F-block, Wednesday, and is scheduled into students’ programs along with their courses. Town Meeting is the governing body for SWS. All students and staff have one vote in decisions about the administrative and educational policies and practices of SWS. These decisions range from rules for attendance and admissions policies to the consequences for students who are not fulfilling their obligations to the community. Students form a majority on all Committees, including Hiring Committees for new staff.
The SWS Community is involved in activities in addition to classes and governance. SWS community building activities begin with an orientation for new members when school opens. Students form committees to complete specific tasks including: admissions, community service, community issues, and community changes. Traditional events include an overnight trip and/or “Day Away,” the “Frolics” talent show, and SWS Graduation. Activities vary according to student political, social, and academic interests. SWS students are also involved in main school activities and athletics.
Admission to SWS
SWS is open to all students who attend Brookline High School and are in the 10th, 11th, or 12th grade. A parent, dean, counselor and the SWS Coordinator must sign the approval form. There is a waiting list for entrance. Students are encouraged to sign-up between January and March. The list closes by early March. Entrance is by lottery after fulfilling a few requirements. SWS has policy to match the demographics of the mainstream high school.
Life After School
Applying to certain schools from SWS may offer an advantage to the student who has shown in SWS that (s)he is capable of being an independent learner. For schools that specifically look for this quality, performing well in a less traditionally structured environment will be an asset. Approximately the same percentage of students in SWS as in the main school go on to four year colleges, or some other form of training or education. SWS students are admitted to the full range of colleges and universities.