This KIRO Radio Spotlight originally aired Tuesday, January 10, 2012

So many kids go to college without a clue as to what they’d like to study. Then, many graduate from college and they still don’t know what they’re passionate about. Plus, they don’t have interview skills and can barely piece together a proper resume.

Well, The Big Picture School in Bellevue is trying to change all that. It’s a public school that has kids in the classroom three days a week, and out doing real world, professional internships the other two.

“I’m working at Balance Physical Therapy,” says 15-year-old freshman Jason Katz. “I make educational videos for them that they will put on their website to get potential clients.”

Big Picture student, Jason, has some big career goals.

“Either a director, or I was thinking of becoming a psychologist and opening up a private practice down in Los Angeles to help actors who get stressed out. They’re pretty emotional down there.”

There are 100 Big Picture Schools in five countries, including one in SeaTac and this second Washington campus just opened last year. Principal Bethany Spindler says the focus is on giving kids a lot of choices, and teaching them real life, relevant skills.

“They’ve all written multiple versions of their resumes, cover letters, thank you letters. They’ve learned about work site safety laws, minimum wage, how to navigate public transportation because kids have to get to their internships on their own. They don’t drive. What do you if there’s a conflict at the work site? Who do you go to? How do you work with HR?”

I didn’t even learn these skills in college and I have friends in their 30’s who still can’t write a proper cover letter.

Anjini Azhar is the most articulate, adorable 11-year-old I’ve ever met.

“I wanted to come here because it was supposed to be different and it was supposed to be more hands-on. When I came here it really did exceed my expectations.

Her parents shuttle her back and forth to LA, so she can audition for parts in movies, TV shows and commercials.

“I’m interested in being an actress. But I’m also deciding between being an actress and veterinarian because I’ve always wanted to help animals and do my part for them.”

The internships start when a student begins their freshman year and last from 10 weeks to 2 years. Anjini is still too young to do her internship, but right now she appreciates the freedom she’s given in the classroom.

“Right now we’re doing a cell project and you can do really anyway you want to present it. You can do a 3D model, a video game, a story book. Anything! The way we learn really motivates us to not just do what we’re supposed to, but kind of go over the standards.”

Principal Spindler, who the students simply call Bethany, says the school appeals to a certain kind of kid.

“Students who are self-directed learners, that have a passion for learning, who want to work together in teams. We want students who are motivated and committed to exploring what they’re interested in and not just relying on a teacher to direct all of the instructional moves in the classroom.”

Whatever they’re doing seems to be working. The results are pretty promising at the Big Picture Schools around the world.

“They have a 92 percent high school graduation rate and a 95 percent college acceptance rate,” says Spindler. “Which is impressive.”

It really is, considering that in the United States, a student drops out of school every 12 seconds. The Big Picture’s graduation rate includes 60 percent low income kids and 60 percent kids of color.

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The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.