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BSD Introduces Innovative Approach to Learning

Walking into the Burrell High School library, you won’t see any stark white walls or hard tables and chairs. Instead, there are bright, colorful lounge chairs, moveable modern-looking tables, and splashes of color on the walls—a scene that for most faculty and parents is vastly different from their own memories of school. And the truth is, the school our children show up to every day is not the same school that we attended ten, twenty, thirty years ago. It can’t be.

“Kids have changed,” district superintendent Dr. Shannon Wagner explains, “so we have to change with them.”

Our children are constantly making choices—choices that just ten years ago didn’t exist. From what app or music to download, which news story to read, and which pictures to post, every aspect of their social life is governed by choices. So the question becomes: how do we as educators compete with this ever-changing world that our kids are living in, which grants them access to so many choices constantly at their fingertips?

Wagner and Dr. Matthew Conner, district assistant superintendent, believe that the key game changer to adapting curriculum to meet a wide range of students’ needs lies in allowing them the freedom to make creative choices at school. By utilizing the arts, Wagner and Conner see great potential to re-engage students and make school fun again.

High School Principal John Boylan recently witnessed an inspiring example of this type of student engagement in senior Jessica Dombroski, whom he saw transform from a quiet student to an impassioned, enthusiastic senior who now feels that she has finally found her purpose. Through the high school’s Zulama course, a game-based computer class, Jessica was able to participate in Next Generation Learning’s summer internship program at CMU. There, she found an aspect of school with which she could finally identify. “You can just see the passion on her face,” says Mr. Boylan, which just wasn’t the case prior to discovering her passion for coding and gaming.

The district’s plans for the future would ideally nurture the artistic abilities of students like Jessica who may sit quietly in the back of the classroom and doodle in their notebooks, rather than penalize them for not being one particular type of student.

“Straight-A students don’t always do well when asked to be creative and problem-solve,” says Conner. “The best thing we can do to prepare our kids to compete in a global society is to challenge them, force them to solve problems, and teach them to create and defend their own ideas.”

Wagner and Conner envision a school that embraces students’ unique personalities and interests by creating a cross-collaborative curriculum that would allow for fluidity between all subjects. An art teacher, for example, might work with a history teacher to allow students to be creative with course concepts, rather than simply regurgitate material for a traditional exam.

Although the district is not 100% there yet, Wagner explains that “there are great pockets” of this type of learning already in place—from the new SMALLab at Bon Air Elementary to Creative Design courses at the middle school—and with the help of parents and the community, district goals to change the way we view education can be achieved.

 “Education is still the foundation to a better life,” says Wagner.  “I think everyone should have a passion for what they do. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, you have to have to love doing it.  Being a well-rounded person with a solid education is the key to unlocking that enthusiasm.  And that’s what we have to do here.”

“Kids have changed,” district superintendent Dr. Shannon Wagner explains, “so we have to change with them.”

Our children are constantly making choices—choices that just ten years ago didn’t exist. From what app or music to download, which news story to read, and which pictures to post, every aspect of their social life is governed by choices. So the question becomes: how do we as educators compete with this ever-changing world that our kids are living in, which grants them access to so many choices constantly at their fingertips?

Wagner and Dr. Matthew Conner, district assistant superintendent, believe that the key game changer to adapting curriculum to meet a wide range of students’ needs lies in allowing them the freedom to make creative choices at school. By utilizing the arts, Wagner and Conner see great potential to reengage students and make school fun again.

High School Principal John Boylan recently witnessed an inspiring example of this type of student engagement in senior Jessica Dombroski, whom he saw transform from a quiet student to an impassioned, enthusiastic senior who now feels that she has finally found her purpose. Through the high school’s Zulama course, a game-based computer class, Jessica was able to participate in Next Generation Learning’s summer internship program at CMU. There, she found an aspect of school with which she could finally identify. “You can just see the passion on her face,” says Mr. Boylan, which just wasn’t the case prior to discovering her passion for coding and gaming.

The district’s plans for the future would ideally nurture the artistic abilities of students like Jessica who may sit quietly in the back of the classroom and doodle in their notebooks, rather than penalize them for not being one particular type of student.

“Straight-A students don’t always do well when asked to be creative and problem-solve,” says Conner. “The best thing we can do to prepare our kids to compete in a global society is to challenge them, force them to solve problems, and teach them to create and defend their own ideas.”

Wagner and Conner envision a school that embraces students’ unique personalities and interests by creating a cross-collaborative curriculum that would allow for fluidity between all subjects. An art teacher, for example, might work with a history teacher to allow students to be creative with course concepts, rather than simply regurgitate material for a traditional exam.

Although the district is not 100% there yet, Wagner explains that “there are great pockets” of this type of learning already in place—from the new SMALLab at Bon Air Elementary to Creative Design courses at the middle school—and with the help of parents and the community, district goals to change the way we view education can be achieved.

“Education is still the foundation to a better life,” says Wagner.  “I think everyone should have a passion for what they do. It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, you have to have to love doing it.  Being a well-rounded person with a solid education is the key to unlocking that enthusiasm.  And that’s what we have to do here.”

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