(Pictured above: Link [board and staff] leaders, students, and families gather to celebrate another milestone as they build a new Twin Cities school community.)
Much of what Mary Anning discovered along the English Channel in the 1800s now resides in museums.
The 19th century paleontologist made groundbreaking discoveries of ancient marine remains and is credited with discovering ichthyosaurs fossils as well as the plesiosaur. Often referred to as the “unsung hero of fossil discovery,” Anning is an esteemed scientist who played a major role in fossil-finding and upended our assumptions about prehistoric life.
But Anning’s isn’t a household name like those of Charles Darwin or Nikola Tesla. Her lack of recognition is due in large part to her sex; as a woman who didn’t live past the Victorian era, Anning didn’t receive the same accolades as her male peers. Her accomplishments rarely make it into textbooks and she’s hardly the topic of school science reports.
Addressing the historical erasure of women in areas like science or politics by ensuring they are a meaningful part of the student learning experience is one of the many things Brad White hopes to accomplish through a diverse-by-design public school model.
White is the founder and executive director of Link Public Schools, a public charter school serving grades 6-12 slated to open in the fall of 2021. At Link, excluded figures like Anning will be spotlighted and the systems that erased her critiqued in order to create a well-rounded learning experience that builds both knowledge and investigation.
“Diverse by design is intending to create compelling academic opportunities while building intercultural skills and a strong sense of identity,” said White. “In a Tuesday science class, students build scientific understanding through a more complete lens. Who are you hearing about? Do you know who Mary Anning is? How about Katherine Johnson?”
When it opens next fall, Link will work with 100 sixth grade students for its inaugural school year. The school will grow by one grade each year to ultimately serve grades 6-12.
Intentional diversity and compelling academics are just two of the strategies the school will employ. Link’s name and logo, a series of overlapping circles, represent students and community members coming together to create a comprehensive learning experience. The school will also help students discover their “purpose,” and provide innovative opportunities to explore the intersection of personal passions and potential career paths. Students will be asked to think about their interests, what stirs them, and how they can take their knowledge and skills and find purpose in their life and their work.
“We help students to really know themselves and understand their strengths,” said White. “We try to equip students with the tools of self-reflection, community awareness, and constant, iterative action so that they have this beautiful, passionate sense of purpose in their life.”
White moved back to Minnesota with his wife, a native of the North Star state, after serving as founding school director of Denver-based DSST: Byers Middle & High School. In 2019, DSST: Byers Middle School was named a 2019 National Blue Ribbon School. White has taught and led in schools in the Twin Cities, Tokyo and Denver.
Link’s west metro location is weeks away from being finalized. Right now Link is meeting with families interested in attending the new school.
Minnesota ranks as one of the most educated states based on the number of residents with college degrees. It was also the first state in the country to adopt charter school legislation. Notwithstanding these achievements, Minnesota still has a long way to go when it comes to education equity.
A report from the Minneapolis Federal Reserve says the state has some of the worst achievement gaps, a phenomenon that occurs due to systemic inequities, in the nation. The Fed found, for example, that 65% of white students are proficient in reading in fourth grade, while only 31% of black students are.
White hopes that Link’s diverse-by-design model can upend those disparities.
“We’re intentionally trying to bring together and rejoin communities that are currently fractured – especially in a polarizing election year,” said White. “We have certainly not figured it all out, but I think we’re asking the right questions and have a track record of results.”