At this middle school, students teach each other. Is this new model the future of education?

Luis Melecio-Zambrano, The Mercury News on

Published in Lifestyles

GILROY, Calif. -- In Gilroy Prep’s eighth-grade math class, there are no quiet rows of orderly desks facing an instructor. Instead, the room feels less like a classroom and more like the floor of a stock exchange, with the constant buzz of conversation as students sketch slopes and equations on tablets that project their stylus strokes onto nearby screens.

All the while, a trio of clipboard-wielding students circulate among their classmates — huddled in groups of three on the periphery of the room — asking questions, gesturing at the screens and explaining algebraic concepts.

Gilroy Prep is one of a small cohort of schools in the country experimenting with this method known as the Squads model — students in grades sixth through eighth educating each other under the purview of a teacher.

Despite the novelty, the students seem to appreciate the collaborative approach. “At first, it was a little weird to me, but then I feel like it’s better because we work together more,” said Daniel Lopez, a sixth-grader at Gilroy Prep.

The final grade for this method is still pending, but school leaders say it teaches important “soft skills” that improve interpersonal communication, boosts social awareness, and better educates students. They also note that Gilroy Prep boasts a greater portion of students who score higher in state standardized tests and a lower ratio who are regularly absent from class than the surrounding district.

While education experts caution against putting too much faith in the method prematurely, the Squads model is slowly spreading.


Navigator Schools — the group of charter schools that includes Gilroy Prep — has reached out to a staggering 16,000 schools across the country to offer to educate them about their teaching methods. Thus far, a few dozen educators have come to learn more about Squads, and last academic year, a Seattle charter school took up the method.

The original idea for Squads was born out of boredom.

James Dent, the chief academic officer for Navigator schools, recalled his son complaining about being bored in class. So Dent — then principal of Gilroy Prep — told his son to teach himself. Weeks later, his son still remembered the self-taught lesson.

Dent wondered if this self-teaching might be applied to the classroom, so he devised a system that might get the students to teach themselves and each other. Together with an experimentally minded group of teachers, he began testing the method on students in 2016.


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