Students at many local schools need more than a pencil and notebook in class these days.
That’s because area school districts are offering courses and programs that go beyond traditional chalkboard learning to focus on helping students become more well-rounded and better able to succeed outside of school.
Offerings range from hands-on projects in technology and engineering to participation in a global community, affecting people around the world.
“We are working to give students the experiences they need to be prepared for, and engage in, the world after high school and help to make it a better place,” said Darcy Smith, principal at Palmyra-Macedon Middle School.
Palmyra-Macedon’s high school and middle school are the newest members of a global community of schools offering the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme. This status is held by only 617 schools in the United States and only 23 in New York.
The program has participants in 147 countries. It extends classroom lessons by engaging students and teachers with their schools and wider communities.
In grades six through 10 at Palmyra-Macedon for example, students make connections between their studies and the real world, becoming active learners who can empathize with others and pursue lives of purpose and meaning. The program also provides a way for students to give back and make an impact in local, regional and global communities, leaders there say.
Middle school students read “A Long Walk to Water,’ the story of Salva Dut, one of 3,800 Sudanese orphans, known as the Lost Boys, airlifted to the U.S. beginning in the mid-1990s.
In addition to reading and writing lessons associated with the book, the IB program took the experience a step further, with Lost Boys coming to the school to speak directly with the students about their experiences.
The students also used knowledge gained from reading the book to raise money to build a classroom in Sudan.
Ryan Pacatte, Palmyra-Macedon’s assistant superintendent for instruction and student learning, said the IB program gives students a greater understanding of the world.
Other local school districts are getting involved with the middle school program as well, including East Irondequoit and Hilton, he said.
“It helps develop better leaders who can function in a global society,” he said.
Churchville-Chili Central School District offers programs that get multiple grade levels involved.
A geometry class that pairs traditional instruction with a technology twist is rolling out to good reviews, Superintendent Loretta Orologio said.
Instead of memorizing theorems for exams, students apply their geometry studies to a hands-on project—for example, a shed for the district’s garden that is cared for by all grade levels.
A middle school technology class at Churchville-Chili also created a solar water-pumping system for the garden so it could be cared for when school is not in session.
District high schoolers also recently competed in, and won, a renewable energy competition at SUNY College of Technology at Alfred. They designed and built a solar-powered cooker and created business and marketing plans for the competition.
In addition, middle school students also learn about careers in fields such as health care, public service and agricultural science during presentations held monthly.
Orologio is a strong supporter of Odyssey of the Mind, a program for students in all grade levels to create a project and compete with other students from around the world.
“It’s about creative problem-solving,” she said.
Eastridge High School principal Timothy Heaphy is an advocate for Project Lead the Way, a non-profit organization that develops science, technology, engineering and math curricula for all grade levels. Several area schools offer the program.
Eastridge has a Lead the Way program for students in grades 9 to 12 interested in pursuing a career in engineering. Students learn hands-on about the field and gain a head start for college, he said. A Lead the Way course in computer programming will roll out soon.
Rochester City School District is fortifying early learning opportunities for its youngest pupils. The district recently started offering full-day prekindergarten sessions and, more recently, full-day sessions for 3-year-olds.
Robin Hooper, the district’s executive director of early childhood, secured sizable state grants to help fund both programs. She said the early learning model is critical preparation for school.
The six-hour days are packed with activities, with elements of math, English language arts and social/emotional health woven into many of the sections. There are large-motor skill activities, large and small breakout group sessions, and centers that focus on areas such as writing and art.
At the end of the day, students are asked to summarize the day’s events in their own words. The practice helps develop critical thinking skills, she said.
“It familiarizes them with problem-solving strategies that are necessary to succeed as they continue to learn,” Hooper said.
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