Aquarius High School may seem out of the ordinary, but its test scores are out of this world. The school uses block scheduling; classes are divided up into three days, each with a mandatory study hall/nap time. Students are required to take three years of English, history, science, and math and a full year elective in each subject. Students must also take four years of either language or cultural studies. Gym is a requirement easily filled by doing sports or other physical activity outside of school. Electives are offered in Fine Art, Business, Performing Arts, Environmental Preservation, Restaurant/Culinary, and Geriatric/ Nursing services. Lunch is 45 minutes. So what makes this public school stand out from all the rest?

Aquarius High School is designed, not only to prepare students for, but also to immerse students in the real world. In addition to fulfilling the academic requirements, each student must participate in at least one of the following trips: Community Service trip, Performance trip, Cultural/Language Immersion trip, or Sports Game trip. Most, but not all, of these travel abroad. The purpose of these school trips is to inspire students, to broaden their perspectives, and to promote tolerance and respect for other religions and cultures. This high school goes for global education.

Most unique about this high school is its method of testing. Aquarius Principal explained: “Instead of working towards a big written test, the students work towards a goal, something tangible that they can see and feel and take pride in.” Rather than have written tests make up a majority of their grades, students are “tested” on a final project. For English this would be an essay or compilation of writing, for science an experiment and report, for math a prototype, or set of calculations for a larger task, such as reaching the moon. Projects are graded by multiple teachers from the departments in which the projects are made. The depth and size of the project increases with each grade. And though it is called the Final Project, students work on it throughout the year.

Still, the school remains within the state’s recommended curriculum. And don’t think the students are never tested on paper. Quizzes and written tests are used regularly. “The purpose of them is not the grade itself; it is for the teacher to ensure that the kids have the knowledge they need to complete their projects.” This system serves as motivation and inspiration but also preparation for entering the real world.

Teachers play a huge role in the project-making process. They assist and advise students in choosing appropriate projects, they give students the information and education needed to complete them, and they divide the projects into steps that span the length of the school year. Teachers have the challenge of weaving together the required curriculum and the information students need to complete their projects. “Often they go hand in hand,” says one teacher. “There is so much to draw from in the textbooks and notes. My job is to show students how to take the notes on the page and turn them into something real.”

Teachers at Aquarius High School are not paid based on test scores or project grades. They do, however, receive additional pay for running extra curriculars and spending extra time helping and working with students. This does not include extra time spent grading. Students are not paid for receiving high grades, but they are given many opportunities to submit their work to scholarships, contests, and programs that offer monetary rewards.

Says one Aquarius senior as he sketches some blueprints for his Final Project, a water purification system: “It’s a challenge, it definitely gets overwhelming when you are required to have something to show for all your work, not just a number. But there’s no better feeling than knowing I’m making a positive impact on the world just by doing my schoolwork. When you have a goal, a purpose, it doesn’t feel like high school anymore; it’s just real life.”