“What Box?” Balancing Self-Direction and Structure

Meraki High School: A LiFT Learning Partner Story

Beyond the box

Meraki High School started with an idea to create a school where kids were free to let their imagination fly and follow their passions. The founding team, concerned with the impact the industrial model of education was having on so many young people, wanted to think “so far outside the box you wouldn’t even be able to see the box.”

How did Meraki get from this bold innovative vision to operating a successful school that delivers real results? The team has spent the last four years refining their recipe, trying to strike a balance between voice, choice, structure, and accountability. They use the LiFT Learning platform to deliver their unique model of competency-based personalized learning and portfolio assessment.

Leaning into Learning Plans 

At Meraki, monthly Learning Plans are the launchpad for a wide variety of learning experiences aimed at mastering essential skills. These learning plans are like a handshake between learners and advisors, where they agree on what deliverables and learning outcomes to focus on.

Beyond the box - LiFT Workspace Screenshot

Learners get to choose how they will demonstrate skills in each competency area.

Beyond the Box - LiFT Step Information Screenshot

Learner voice and choice lead the way when co-constructing the learning plans, and even parent input is welcomed. Every Learning Plan may be different, yet to ensure the learning has clear goals, they are organized into four competency areas – Quantitative Reasoning, Empirical Reasoning, Social Reasoning and Physical Literacy. With the support of advisors and peers, learners get to choose how they will demonstrate the skills in each competency area, weaving a combination of interest-driven projects and blended content. The Learning Plan structure helps learners increasingly direct their own learning and take responsibility for their personal development.

Stronger Skill-based Portfolios

Ultimately, learners are assessed using LiFT’s competency-based portfolio system. As Meraki founder and advisor Chris Watson describes it, “If you look at our LiFT portfolios, you can clearly see we’re built on skills – not on specific pieces of content. I think the LiFT architecture really helps our students by emphasizing the 21st century skills that we want them to develop.” 

Beyond the Box - LiFT Progress Tracker Screenshot

As students work through their Learning Plans, they push completed evidence to the appropriate competency portfolio. Learners then rate their portfolios on a four point scale, and are required to reflect deeply on the learning process. Self-assessment is one step in a formal metacognitive process in which learners record their successes and struggles and make a plan for addressing challenges.

Chris Watson says, “We love that they get to rate their own LiFT portfolios because it’s essential to understand how they perceive the quality of their work, and justify how their evidence demonstrates the skill.”  To make a summative portfolio assessment, the advisors responsible for each competency area have everything in one place – portfolio guidelines, a detailed rubric, an ever-growing body of evidence, the learner’s self-reflection, and input from other advisors.

We have students that 100% own their learning plans.”

Building a personalized, competency-based school takes courage, determination, and much hard work. The Meraki team has continually been willing to question their assumptions, pilot new ideas, and rethink their methods. They’re the first to admit that it hasn’t been easy. In four years, how far have they managed to go beyond the box? As Chris says, “We have students that are just killing it, and yeah, they 100% own their learning plans. They love the opportunity to make their own choices. Fundamentally, we know that at Meraki we’re doing what’s right for building successful human beings.”


LiFT Learning is honored to support this journey of transformation with Meraki High School and celebrate their success. For more information about the LiFT Learning philosophy and platform, visit here. Special thanks to Chris Watson and the entire Meraki team, for sharing their inspiring story.

Christopher Watson Photo
Christopher Watson
Meraki High School