Bay Area School of Enterprise: Enterprise Project-Based Learning « Center on Educational Governance (CEG)

Bay Area School of Enterprise: Enterprise Project-Based Learning

Practice Area: Project-Based Learning

Bay Area School of Enterprise:
Enterprise Project-Based Learning

Bay Area School of Enterprise

Alameda, California
Founded 2001
92 students
Grades 9-12
45% Hispanic, 25% White, 21% African-American, 1% Asian, 6% Other
4% English language learners
33% Special needs
35% Receive subsidized meals
Teachers not part of collective bargaining unit

Source: Center on Educational Governance, 2006.

Instruction at BASE follows the principles of enterprise learning: multi-age and ability groups, student initiative and leadership, and rigorous intellectual development that focuses on habits of mind and not merely information retention. 

Some enterprise learning projects take the form of full-scale social action while others are classroom-based activities. These “enterprises,” as they are called at BASE, are large-scale, often remarkable projects, such as a documentary film, a fully licensed pre-school and an interactive exhibition about community violence.


Day to day instruction at BASE resembles project-based learning, but BASE reserves the term “project” for the extensive “enterprises” conducted by each grade level in their respective humanities class.

All enterprises involve the design and implementation of a culminating project that links the concepts learned in the humanities course to an issue in the community. Successful completion requires students to defend their proposal, develop measures of success for the project, self-evaluate, and report on their project’s successes and shortfalls. Having a clear plan and buy-in from students are two essential features of BASE enterprises.

For example, the HOME Sweet HOME Pre-School was founded by BASE students and continues to be run as a youth/adult collaborative. Students learn about developmental psychology, child development and curriculum design while helping the staff and parents improve the preschool by redesigning the playground, building a play house and creating a vegetable garden.

Some enterprises – such as a project where students and teacher each wrote about personally experiencing injustice — reflect BASE’s alternative approach to the teaching. Life experiences are not segregated from the classroom but are fuel for discussion, learning and engagement. Otherwise, many BASE students would be distracted from school by the weight of their non-school experiences, including gangs, drugs and abuse.

The BASE staff has developed a network-based toolkit that documents strategies for implementing enterprise projects and a humanities curriculum which is tailored to students’ projects. The BASE staff is more than willing to share their self-created “Enterprise Learning” workbook with other interested educators.

Requirements Of Enterprise Project-Based Learning

Just to run the core instructional program, BASE’s budget spends about $800 per pupil more than the state’s allotment. The director does not attribute the cost to enterprise learning but to the smaller class size (15 to one) in which enterprise learning flourishes.

Facilities require multiple configurations and sizes for different types of meetings. Classroom spaces and community spaces should be available to students: a place to conduct project preparation at tables and chairs and a working space with “productive noise” for project time.

Ideally, a true enterprise learning space should be connected to the community with lots of windows, porous walls and various entrances. The school should be literally part of the community, the director has said, by sharing a facility with other nonprofits and community organizations.

As only humanities classes contain enterprises in the curriculum, non-humanities staff members work (when available) with the humanities teachers to support the various enterprises. Teachers discuss planning and implementation of the projects for five weeks before the school year begins.

New staff members are chosen with student input as well as faculty; a background in enterprise learning is preferred. Mentorship is important between administrators and new faculty. The BASE staff receives 10 joint professional development days throughout the school year and every Friday afternoon is also devoted to staff development.

Lessons Learned

True to the school’s experimental nature, the BASE director has said he doesn’t categorize any school program as “successful,” merely “successful experimenting.” Similarly, the staff claims to commit itself not to “lessons learned” but “lessons I’m still learning.”

The director appreciates that BASE’s educators have developed a powerful project model but asserts that if someone said, “Let’s create another BASE,” that would not mean creating a school exactly like this one. Instead, it would involve a replication of the philosophy: to “engage with a group of students to co-create and keep recreating a developmentally responsible environment.” A small school with a strong connection to students’ families is a must, he has said, as are educated, passionate teachers who are willing to “be real” with students.

Teachers have said that enterprise learning is more time-consuming yet more creative and fun for them as professionals, especially designing lesson plans that aren’t just based on textbooks yet maintain academic rigor. It’s also more emotionally risky if the topic is sensitive, as students and teachers go through the same self-discovery processes together.


BASE has demonstrated annual API growth but at 599 must still make considerable progress to reach the state’s goal of 800.

However, the staff recognizes that their student body draws on a group of generally at-risk youth who didn’t do well in public or private school, and so augment standardized tests with qualitative behavioral assessments to help monitor student progress.

BASE teachers have noted that students’ confidence levels improve dramatically during their four years at BASE. This is particularly evident in the students’ ability to address large groups comfortably during performances before the community. According to one teacher, “Public speaking skills are really hard; a lot of adults don’t even have them.”


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