Monday, June 6, 2011

The Saxifrage School

The Saxifrage School was featured in the Sunday edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 5, 2011.  You can read the article here.

Basically, the Saxifrage School is the brainchild of a friend of mine, Tim Cook, who I met at Banjo Night at the Elks Club on the North Side in the summer of 2010. After telling Tim that I was studying Higher Education Management, he told me his idea for a stripped-down, bare essentials college that would be committed to developing a student's real-life skills.  Being a very recent student myself, this struck me as a project that I wanted to contribute to, so I have been serving on the initial planning team since February.

As Tim has learned, along with the rest of us, starting a college is not simple, but our fearless leader has committed himself in a way that is inspirational.  We don't need to be encouraged to power through to make the project possible; it is already beyond possible.  This school will happen, it's just a matter of making sure this project is the strongest project we can create.

As the PG article describes, students will learn things like how to grow their own food or do house construction while reading literature, mastering Spanish, and living in community with a neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Here's the basic idea: a valuable, low-cost college education.  As described on the School's homepage, the goal is to have dual-majors in an "academic" and a "technical" field and Spanish fluency for 400 students.  (Read more ideas about academics here)  The School plans to have 40 instructors whose salaries will be paid by a vast majority of the incoming tuition dollars.  The Saxifrage School will operate with a nomadic campus with one or two administrative buildings while hosting classes in underutilized community spaces such as churches and bars.  Students will rent living space in the community and work part-time jobs alongside their neighbors. The frills of student affairs will be cut down (or completely) as needed.  This conservation of resources will result in an education-and-community based model that will cost students only $5000 in tuition.

Academically, the dual-majors will be a combination of two fields; one academic and one technical.  The academic field choices are World Literature and Writing, International Systems, and Religion and Philosophy while the technical fields are Organic Agriculture, Computer Science, and Building Design and Construction.  Students will have the opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons while learning practical skills that can be applied every day at home and the workplace.

The uphill battle is still ahead.  Four teams have been developed to focus on the academics, fundraising, logistics, and community for the School.  Between now and the anticipated opening in 2014, the Saxifrage School will choose a community in which to start, develop relationships with their neighbors, recruit instructors and students, develop academic programs, and raise a couple million dollars, among other items on the check-list.

A buzz is developing in the city of Pittsburgh, though, with special thanks to the Mattress Factory who has provided a complimentary headquarters for the Saxifrage School to use through at least mid-June in the old Firewaters location across from PNC Park.  The General Will, as it's now called, has hosted a couple concerts combined with community conversations, a pair of shantyboating classes (the second of which is this Thursday), and will host an open IPO (Initial Public Offering) Party that is FREE to the public and scheduled for this Sunday, June 12 at 7pm.  For more information on this party, check the Facebook event here.

This is the project in a nutshell.  It's an exciting project being discussed by a group of young people who care about the future of education and Pittsburgh.  Who knows how long I will be able to continue being a part of this project in Pittsburgh, but I'm thankful to have been here at the beginning and hope to contribute in any way I can, wherever I end up!

You can also read more about the Saxifrage School at our website.

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