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  • Writer's pictureChloë Fraser

Thriving, Not Just Surviving: A Day of Digital Learning At META

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Schools, teachers, parents, and students alike were rattled when the pandemic began and millions of kids were suddenly forced to learn online. Many students have suffered from striking inequity in access to digital learning, while others have simply struggled to adapt to flexible learning. Yet in some cases, parents and teachers have seen learners rise to the occasion in ways we could not have expected.

For instance, Montenique Woodard, an 8th-grade teacher in Washington, D.C., was surprised to realize that one of her most rowdy students was actually “thriving” in his online studies. “I think not having those everyday distractions in school has really allowed for kids like him to focus on the work,” she says, “and not necessarily all the social things going on because some kids can't separate that out.”

So, is that why some students found their niche in digital learning? And if learners are thriving today, can we truly plan a mass return to ‘normal’ schooling? Parents who’ve seen their child flourish this year are right to wonder if there’s a better option than the traditional, compliance-based education model within the four walls.

At META, we believe that flexible learning is a lifestyle, and one that not only reduces distractions, like in Woodard’s class, but encourages students to engage in healthy, exciting, and fulfilling experiences every single day. To quote John Wooden, we want your child to “make each day [their] masterpiece.”


9 AM — Rise and shine, Metans!

Everything begins with sleep. Consider this: the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommending 8-10 hours of sleep a night for teens aged 12 to 18. Yet researchers in 2018 discovered that 73% of high school students across the U.S. sleep far less than that! This is partly due to early school start times, which conflict with teenagers’ biological rhythms.

“Research to date has shown that the circadian rhythms of adolescents are simply fundamentally different from those of adults and children,” says Gideon Dunster, who specializes in high schoolers’ sleep patterns. Dunster highlights that “the time at which teens generally fall asleep is biologically determined — but the time at which they wake up is socially determined.”

At META, we offer students to take back control of their sleep schedules, which research shows increases school attendance, punctuality, attention, and grades. Increased sleep also empowers our learners to truly savor their lives, by reducing irritability and depressive symptoms, and even increasing the quality of student-family interaction.

Then, we encourage our learners to start the day with activity blocks centered around personal growth. That could be a workout or jog or dance session, a mindfulness practice that your child truly enjoys, or a 1-on-1 meeting with their personal advisor. Ultimately, we empower students to build their day with their personal well-being in mind, as opposed to traditional schooling which sets rigid expectations around schedules.

11 AM — It’s time to go to class, virtually.

If you’re a parent or an educator, you know flexible learning can easily flop in the wrong hands. We’ve seen gaps in education this past year because thousands of ill-prepared teachers struggled to facilitate online learning within a week. But at META, your child will benefit from virtual learning more than they might right now, in a pandemic, because we’re planning for it.

For us, online schooling isn’t a quick pivot or a last-minute adaptation. We’ve studied the science of digital learning, we know what makes kids tick, and we know how to make them come alive through digital virtual experiences. As a result, an online class at META always includes personal connection with teachers and mentors, engaging learning materials, and reactive discussion forums where your child can truly feel heard. We also ensure that our digital learning periods complement META’s opportunities for global learning through hands-on projects around the world.

What remote learning allows us to do is harness the benefits of self-pacing. For years, students have been told when to stand, when to sit, when to eat, when to speak, and when to go to the bathroom. While this micro-management at school is effective in the short term, it does not empower learners to become 21st-century adults. After all, many employees discovered this year that they were better suited to flexible scheduling. Others, not so much. And the difference often lies in the individual’s ability to self-pace, self-manage, and self-discipline. When META gives kids the ability to schedule their day the way they want to schedule it, they’re empowered to find work-life balance in the future.


3 PM — Right now's a great time for a break!

At META, students organize their time around certain learning blocks. In fact, they arrange when to do classwork, invest in projects, socialize with their friends, cook, eat, and exercise. You might be wondering: how do Metans find the time for each of these things?

In essence, alternative schools like META are unique in assigning great value to students’ time. Not only are we aware that jam-packed schedules aren’t healthy, but we also refuse to overwhelm kids with lazy assignments. Students in traditional schools have been notoriously overwhelmed, doing 7.5 to 8 hours a week of homework. A lot of this homework is actually busy work: assignments that take up a lot of time but don’t “impart anything of educational value to students.” Those are hours and hours of time that could be better suited for learners to develop other skills or simply to develop as humans. But instead, busy work drives up your child’s anxiety. When asked to describe their lives, learners at traditional schools write things like “stressful, complicated, overinvolved, full of transitions, anxiety, uncertainty, pressure, and exhaustion.”

At META, we know that cutting down on work, alongside flexible learning, significantly reduces your students’ anxiety. On the flip side, the work we do assign is meaningful. We facilitate projects linked to the United Nations’ sustainable development goals that learners then carry out locally. We also help them design their own passion projects with mentors and educators. As opposed to the typical anxiety-driven school model, we make sure our students are intrinsically motivated by a sense of purpose rather than by anxiety surrounding teachers’ expectations or standardized tests that they can’t see the relevance of.

What META Really Does

We make a point of incorporating things that other schools don’t assess and therefore don’t prioritize, like mental and physical wellbeing. We empower students to make time for personal growth because we want them to feel good about who they are and who they’re becoming. And we encourage them to take ownership of their time — because the earlier your child can learn to pursue what uplifts them, the happier they will be at school, at work, and in life.

In our next blog, we uncover META’s transformative competency learning, from creating new value to reconciling tensions, to taking responsibility.

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