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Commerce Matters: See the big picture at Innovations High School (Voices)

Ann Silver

Commerce Matters

Ann Silver is CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce.
Courtesy photo

Across Washoe County, parents, teachers and 64,000 public students continue to adapt, remain flexible and dedicated to learning despite the varied educational models currently in place.

The Washoe County School District has been transparent and communicative, and we should be grateful to its leadership for working through hybrid schedules, bus routes, meals, sanitation protocols and pandemic restrictions while remaining determined to provide our youth with as realistic an educational experience one can expect in this “new abnormal” time.

One site for high school learning that defies most norms is Innovations High School, located in downtown Reno on 2nd Street, where it continues to answer the need for students seeking a different learning experience; one based on the “Big Picture” learning model that offers student-centered learning based on personal interests and career pursuits.

Each student is part of a 15-student advisory group and parents and families are actively involved in shaping the student’s learning plan while also serving as resources to the school community.

My mother was a pioneer in alternative education back in the 1970s, teaching students who did not feel comfortable or succeed in traditional classrooms but found their identities, creativity and voices in a high school that was open, expressive and, quite frankly, rather unique.

My mother allowed students to call her by her first name, to wear hats and interesting outfits into classes and offered courses in black history, play writing and poetry readings. My siblings and I envied the freedom of this learning environment and shared my mother’s pride in an almost 100% graduation rate each year.

Since her passing, numerous students have written to me and my siblings to express their appreciation for being given the chance to succeed and to bond with adults who believed in their futures despite numerous family, income and personal challenges.

Innovations High School is one-of-a-kind in our school district, accepting only those students, grades 9-12, who select it and have the grit and resilience to engage in a robust campus experience. The student-teacher ratio is 8:1, 47% of the student body are minorities, 54% of the students are economically disadvantaged and its graduation rate was 86% in 2019. Each student has an internship where he or she works closely with a mentor to learn workplace skills and ethics in a real-world setting.

Teens are expected to challenge themselves and set goals for the period after graduation when they will set out to find jobs, demonstrate good citizenship, and find ways to give back to their families and community.

Any student is welcome to enroll and a visitation to Innovations High School resonates with genuine humility, self-confidence, creative expressions, and the music that fills the hallways.

Let’s support this high school and the 160 students who exhibit the varied talents and pursuits that are becoming increasingly relevant in a more diverse region. Let’s applaud them for embracing the changing ways to learn and expressing their school spirit in song, weekly recognition ceremonies, and through engaging relationships with the instructional team.

There are no socioeconomic boundaries or limitations on which teens can enroll. When school is the best place to be, the best place to move forward and where a teen can find compassion and acceptance, attendance is not a requirement but a pleasure.

“Commerce Matters” is a monthly Voices column in the NNBW authored by Ann Silver, CEO of the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce. Reach her for comment at asilver@thechambernv.org.