Deborah Olatunji is obsessed with thinking about how students can get more from their education.
That’s a noble and impressive goal for any citizen, but Olatunji is still in high school herself. Yet the Charter School of Wilmington senior is constantly considering changes and improvements in our current system.
Her focus on educational reform led to the publication of her new book, Unleashing Your Innovative Genius: High School Redesigned, which is now available for ordering on Amazon as well as at Barnes & Noble and Walmart.
Olatunji says the book was written to help students “take charge and boldly advocate for much-needed changes,” beginning with thinking differently about the entire approach to a traditional school experience.
For Olatunji, a New Castle resident headed to the University of Pennsylvania for college, untraditional approaches to education mean more experiential learning outside of the classroom.
“You can do so much more when you’re not just sitting down taking notes and doing rote memorization,” said Olatunji. “As 21st-century learners, we need to tap into the experience economy, because we have these interactions day to day. But students are telling me, ‘Oh, I don’t know how to speak in a public arena, or I don’t know how to find an internship or ways to apply what I am learning in school outside of school.’ And if you go through these experiential learning opportunities, you will learn how to do those skills, and they’re things that you cannot teach or learn in the classroom.”
The 18-chapter book focuses on things schools and students can be doing to be better prepared for their lives beyond school in the communities where they will live and work.
“We’re challenging the notion that high school is just time to train for college,” said the new author, as she critiqued a culture of test-taking in most American schools. “It should be a time for exploration, discovery and connection – connecting to their peers and adults and new experiences. We currently just go through the motions, assessment after assessment and we never stop to think about what all this means.”
One of the chapters focuses on strategies for doing away with busy work — replacing monotonous practices with personalized learning strategies. Another suggests students “discovering their brand of learning” with strategies to equate real-world value to lessons learned in the classroom.
“It’s about nurturing their potential and making students understand how unstoppable they are when they tap into not only their community but these experiential resources to learn about who they are and how they can make an impact,” she says.
Olatunji herself has dabbled in just about everything – from singing in the church choir, to participating in CSW’s marching band and theatre productions to playing the violin, clarinet and piano.
She’s also on the Varsity indoor track and outdoor track and field teams and a member of several clubs at CSW including one she founded herself: the Student Leadership Initiative Program (SLIP), which helps other students find interesting opportunities outside of school.
“The SLIP club dovetails well into the premise of my book. We find and categorize opportunities from business to medicine to science. And even opportunities that you may not be interested in, but you want to learn more about,” says Olatunji.
Olatunji began writing the book over a year ago. The self-described ‘education activist’ says students need support and encouragement to embrace a definition of happiness that isn’t overly tied to grades and extracurricular activities, which she acknowledges “don’t always equate to happiness or fulfillment.”
The young author has spoken to groups as large as 1,200, and she is looking forward to sharing her passion about education with many more live audiences thanks to the book.
Deborah Olatunji says her love of science has her considering a career in the medical field and she might want to travel the world serving as a missionary nurse.
To contact Deborah and her team for speaking opportunities, visit deboraholatunji.com (http://deboraholatunji.com/) and leave an inquiry. You can also connect with Deborah on LinkedIn and follow @deb_olatunji on Instagram and Twitter.