Friday, November 21, 2014

Williamsburg moves ahead on project-based school

By ABBY ECKEL, Herald Staff Writer | 12/13/2013

WILLIAMSBURG — Some big changes are planned for one of Franklin County’s rural schools, Robert Allen said.

Through the end of this school year and during summer 2014, Williamsburg Elementary School teachers will be working on a new curriculum that falls in line with Common Core standards, as well as implementing project-based learning, Allen, principal at the Williamsburg school, said.

WILLIAMSBURG — Some big changes are planned for one of Franklin County’s rural schools, Robert Allen said.

Through the end of this school year and during summer 2014, Williamsburg Elementary School teachers will be working on a new curriculum that falls in line with Common Core standards, as well as implementing project-based learning, Allen, principal at the Williamsburg school, said.

“The staff is going to do this during in services and collaborative plan times twice a week each morning,” Allen said. “We’ll have extra in service times during the summer. We’d like to have it implemented before we leave [this year] but we’ll need extra time this summer.”

Allen first went to the West Franklin school board in October with his idea of turning Williamsburg Elementary into a project-based learning school based on agricultural and environmental skills. Board members voted Monday night to move forward with the initiative for the 2014-2015 school year.

According to board documents, the board voted to move forward with the project-based curriculum at Williamsburg Elementary, which requires moving the Learning Center back to Williamsburg; moving the preschool into the main building at Williamsburg; and maintaining the current West Franklin Learning Center modular and using the grounds for gardens and livestock. During the first year of the project, the 2014-2015 school year, no transfers would be allowed in, and the program only would be open to students currently enrolled at Williamsburg Elementary. In addition, no current students would be allowed to transfer out to Appanoose Elementary. The board’s decision also mandates a commitment by all staff to volunteer on days school is not is session, such as weekends, holidays and during the summer; and relies on strong community commitment for both financial support and volunteering labor.

“The board and I agree in putting the one year hold on movement because we know there will be hiccups and things we’ll need to address,” Allen said. “We need a year to do that before we allow kids to come in because when we have visitors come we want them to walk away and go ‘Whoa.’”

With no other ideas voiced on how to save and recover declining enrollment at Williamsburg Elementary, Allen said, he thinks the new initiative will grow enrollment and allow a more hands-on, less traditional approach to learning.

“I think it would be better for students,” Allen said previously. “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 large part of making the implementation successful depends on the staff, the City of Williamsburg and community members, Allen said.

“The City of Williamsburg allows us to use their properties,” he said. “They have property adjacent to us that used to be the school’s and the school gave the city the property and the city is letting us use that property for educational services. And also allowing us to have livestock within city limits for school purposes.”

Donations from community members and staff will be necessary for students to get the real world experience for agriculture and environmental projects, Dotson Bradbury, West Franklin school superintendent, said.

“Donations from patrons that could include funds, animals, feed and obviously donations of time to assist with projects,” Bradbury said. “The staff is committed to the program and will also be donating time. For example, any time school is not in session someone still has to feed the animals, and in the summer when there’s gardens or things, they’ll need to help keep those watered and tended to and they’re committed to volunteering their time to those activities.”

Board members wanted more information on what a day at the new project-based school would look like, Bradbury said, but Allen couldn’t give them an answer just yet.

“Mr. Allen said, ‘I’d like to tell you what a typical day is, but can’t because the staff is starting to develop that,’” Bradbury said. “But once school is out, we should be able to do that.”

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