Friday, October 31, 2014

Hands-on approach considered at Williamsburg

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 10/18/2013

Declining enrollment at Williamsburg Elementary School has forced school officials to think outside the box, Robert Allen said.

Williamsburg Elementary lost the largest number of students so far this year, Allen, principal at the elementary school, said. Allen came to the board of education Monday night and proposed the elementary school be changed to a project-based school.

Declining enrollment at Williamsburg Elementary School has forced school officials to think outside the box, Robert Allen said.

Williamsburg Elementary lost the largest number of students so far this year, Allen, principal at the elementary school, said. Allen came to the board of education Monday night and proposed the elementary school be changed to a project-based school.

“The reasoning is couple-fold,” Allen said. “I think it would be better for students. It’ll help students as we implement Common Core. We’ll be held accountable for 21st century learning, soft skills, communications, collaboration. It will increase enrollment since it’s declining and we need to look at doing something different.”

A project-based school is different than a traditional classroom, Allen said, as it gives students a more hands-on approach to learning.

“Rather than a traditional classroom where they sit in rows, kids are up and doing projects, kids are working out in the agriculture center,” he said. “They’ll be out there doing projects related to what they’ve learned in the classroom.”

The new idea would be based on three specific areas, Allen said: agriculture, mechanical and environmental.

“It’s about kids getting up and becoming more engaged in what they’re doing rather than sitting in a traditional classroom,” Allen said. “It’s taking what the teacher has given them and applying it in a real world situation. It’s kind of a growing trend in education, and I think a project-based curriculum will help us implement Common Core and some of the demands.”

The concept of project-based schools is still very new, Allen said, but a school in Walton, Kan., already has made the change and had success with it so far.

Allen received the all-clear from the board Monday night to move forward with gathering more information and working on a plan of how to best implement the new idea, he said.

“Myself, the superintendent and some teachers are taking a trip to Walton,” he said. “We don’t intend on copying them, but they do a good job in presenting it and it’s similar to what we’re aiming for. They don’t implement environmental and mechanical as much, but they’ve been successful.”

Allen first took his idea to Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin school district superintendent, before presenting it to the board, he said. Though he has yet to speak with parents about the idea, Allen said all of his teachers are on board with it.

“I have not taken this out to parents yet, I’m just taking my steps,” he said. “I think [the teachers] are enthusiastic. They understand the need and how students will benefit and how it will be good for our school and the district.”

Another school that has implemented a project-based school is in the Chase County school district in Strong City, Kan., Bradbury said, and has spoken with the superintendent about the school’s success.

“The superintendent emphasized what’s really important is that you have real solid community support because it takes that,” Bradbury said. “You have to have community support, financial of one kind or another and Walton will say the same. Operational expenses don’t increase, but you increase the partnerships with the patrons who donate. Mr. Allen already has the support of the City of Williamsburg and the mayor.”

If everything goes as planned and Williamsburg Elementary becomes a project-based school, it’s unlikely the project-based concept would go further than the elementary level, Bradbury said.

“In elementary school you have one choice and it’s math, reading, spelling and everybody has the same options,” Bradbury said. “When you get to middle school and high school you have music, art, vocational courses, wood shop and computer courses. I don’t see that it can be expanded to middle school and high school because there’s not another model or a need because we’re providing and continuing to provide choices and options at the secondary level.”

Helping kids learn in new and different ways is what the project-based concept is all about, Allen said, and he’s excited at the thought of how it could assist students in learning.

“It helps kids — bottom line,” he said. “I hope it helps them advance the way they need to go. College is great, and I want every kid to go and do what they want, but some kids can’t afford that. There are some vocational avenues out there with hands-on stuff they can do and be successful and happy, and I want to present those options to them and for them to do well.”

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