Students Follow their Passions at Meraki SchoolJun 13, 2019 12:00AM ● By Story and photos by Shaunna Boyd
Henry Houk designed an elaborate board game, writing out a comprehensive narrative and rules of play.
FAIR OAKS, CA (MPG) - Passion-based learning gives students the ability to forge their own path and direct their own education. That’s what they’re doing at Meraki High School, formerly known as UnSchool. The Fair Oaks school encourages students to find their passions and use them to create projects incorporating both academic and real-world skills. By writing proposals, figuring out budgets, and researching the topic’s history, students can use their projects to demonstrate mastery of core subjects.
The students came up with the new name — Meraki, which is a Greek word for the soul, creativity, or love put into something. It describes the essence of yourself you put into your work. On May 30, Meraki High School held an Exhibition Night so the students could show the passion and dedication they have put into their work throughout the school year.
Ava Pucilowski, who displayed her photography at the Exhibition Night, said the new name better describes the school’s purpose: “UnSchool was cool, but it didn’t reflect how much we do here. It really prepares us for real-life situations.… We learn real skills like self-motivation, self-discipline, and time management.”
Many students use the freedom at Meraki High School to pursue their passion for art. “I like that I have more time to do the art I want to do,” said Grace Oldham, one of the students who has been enrolled in Meraki since it opened as UnSchool in 2017. Oldham likes the new name: “It’s very true to what this school is.”
“I love it here,” said Jacob Bartlett, a junior in his second year at Meraki. Bartlett didn’t feel engaged in the traditional school environment: “I came here because I was on autopilot.… I wanted something different.” Bartlett’s project this year focused on creating music and graffiti art. “I couldn’t have done this at my old school.”
Seth Scobba exhibited some of his artwork at the Exhibition Night, showcasing his talent for detailed line drawing. Scobba is a freshman at Meraki and is happy to have the freedom to pursue his interests: “I like having the ability to focus more on my artwork, which is what I want to do in the future. You still get the education you need, but it’s more focused on what you actually like.”
Meraki junior Ryan Cox founded the REX Robotics Club, which works on engineering and coding robots. They hope to compete against teams from around the United States in next year’s VEX Robotics Competition. Cox said he appreciates the flexibility of Meraki because he has a busy schedule taking college classes at Folsom Lake College and American River College: “I like to challenge myself.”
Elijah Nelson spent last semester working on a variety of short stories, but this semester he took on the challenge of writing a screenplay, which other students at the school directed, performed, filmed, and produced. “There’s a lot of freedom here… We’re expected to act like adults and plan out our future. It was a lot to take in at first.” Nelson explained that the personalized attention students receive from faculty advisors helps them understand what they need to do to succeed.
“It’s more of a life experience than a school experience,” said Gabriel Cooper, Meraki Principal. “It’s here for kids who want something very different. If you’re seeking something that’s actual learning versus scripted curriculum at a traditional school, that’s why we’re here.”