Key Elementary School and Key Renaissance School, Indianapolis, Indiana


Bolanos (1994) discusses the application of Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences theory to classrooms at Key Elementary School:

"Ten years ago the founders of the Key School began to study Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences.

First, we used it as a basis for a curriculum guide for gifted and talented students. Then, we concluded we could benefit a wide range of students, from slow learners to gifted, by applying the seven areas of intelligence to the classroom. Thus began the creation of the Key School from scratch.

We garnered community support and the approval of James A. Adams, then the superintendent of the Indianapolis Public Schools. With funding from a local foundation, we planned for one year.

When it opened in 1987, the school's goal was to give equal emphasis to the seven areas of intelligence. This idea separates the innovators from the modifiers. If you take equal status seriously, then the staff must include persons who are qualified to teach a specific discipline, e.g., instrumental music, and develop schedules to equalize the instructional time across the seven areas. Classroom generalists cannot teach effectively in all these areas.

Our current staffing pattern at the Key Elementary School includes seven classroom generalists, full-time specialists in the visual arts, instrumental music, and physical education, a media specialist, a resource teacher, and two teachers on special assignment--the flow activity teacher and the community resource teacher. These two positions were designed to make possible grounded research in intrinsic motivation and community involvement.

One other position is extremely critical to our success in the research and development of video portfolios: the non-licensed video specialist. Her major responsibility is to document all the students' theme-based projects and maintain the school's video archives.

To give more than lip service to multiple intelligences theory requires an investment in a staff that not only is qualified to teach the particular disciplines, but also can schedule adequate time for them to teach what they know. The staffing and the scheduling reflect the priority to provide all children equal emphasis in all seven areas of intelligence.

The theory of multiple intelligences stimulates a wide range of interpretations. Many educators use it as a new veneer over old practice. Arts in education, gifted and talented education, and learning styles are examples of educational approaches that use the theory to justify what already is being done.

The mental model we promote starts with multiple intelligences theory, makes a value judgment of equal emphasis on all seven areas, and establishes a priority by focusing on the student's area of strength. Consequently, the staff includes more specialists than normally is the case at the elementary level. The schedule is balanced to provide equitable time to all students with instruction across the seven areas of intelligence.

Stimulating Motivation

In September 1993, with the support of superintendent Shirl E. Gilbert II, we opened a middle school, the Key Renaissance School, in downtown Indianapolis. The Renaissance School is an extension of the Key School elementary program in several ways: equal emphasis on the seven areas of intelligence, theme-based interdisciplinary curriculum, multi-aged heterogeneous classes, projects, video portfolios, authentic assessment, and exit-level performance standards.

We want to prepare students of the Key Renaissance School to become future community leaders in business, government, education, the arts, technology, and the sciences. These students will become the pathfinders for Indianapolis in the 21st century. Significantly the school is located in the heart of the business district.

We are establishing mentorships in the larger community for our eighth grade students. After identifying each student's area of highest interest, we match him or her with an adult role model. A student who demonstrates through his or her projects a strength and intrinsic motivation in activities reflecting spatial intelligence might be matched with a mentor from the city planning department.

We believe time, energy, and resources are best directed toward helping each student discover his or her particular areas of highest interest where intrinsic motivation supports the extra work required to build that strength. A full-time staff member, the service apprenticeship teacher, coordinates this work.

Our plans for these students do not end with the middle school program. We have permission to develop a high school. Our ultimate goal is to create a total learning community (kindergarten through 12th grade). Once the middle school is firmly in place, the high school will be phased in over a four-year period.

Allow me to speculate about the future Key Renaissance High School. I have a persistent vision of students applying their knowledge in the community and working to become high-performance adults.

The current reality is that large, departmentalized urban high schools have values and priorities that are very different from the values and priorities of the Key Renaissance School. Little that now operates in the high schools fits with what we are creating. We are forced to design another type of high school. If the intent to link the individual with the community is pursued actively during the high school years, there is a far greater chance for success with a higher percentage of students.

If these students are to be imprinted with the history of the city of Indianapolis and groomed to become future community leaders, we believe a major emphasis must be placed on life in this community. All persons are expected to contribute with their strength(s) to the common good.

Two specific strategies at the high school level help achieve this goal. One is requiring apprenticeships in a chosen area of strength for all students; the other is meeting a set of eight performance standards. To graduate, high school students must document in a profile portfolio their participation and applied knowledge regarding eight human commonalities identified by Ernest Boyer as the goals of general education.

All the work from kindergarten through eighth grade leads up to this challenge of each student documenting his or her applied knowledge in the context of the total learning community. The ideal is for each individual with strengths to contribute to the common good in a focused community of believers.

For our culture, this ideal is to prepare young citizens for active lives as adults in a diverse democratic society.

Unique Opportunity

Peter Senge has written convincingly in his book, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, about the role of a leader as designer. This overview of the Key Renaissance School reflects my primary role as designer in the creation of a total learning community.

This challenge of creation contains enough work in curriculum, instruction, and assessment to require another 10 years of hard labor to reach fruition. Few educators have an opportunity to engage in the collaborative work of establishing a new type of school from the bottom up, kindergarten through 12th grade.

On second thought, maybe the opportunity wasn't really offered--more accurately, it was hammered out of the granite mountain of urban education. Persistence is the password to success." (pp. 30-31)


Reprinted with permission of The School Administrator, published by the American Association of School Administrators.

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