New vision for LRHS

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

Imagine a classroom where high school students take a global or national topic or issue, analyze and develop solutions, and present their findings as a member of a team.

To add a “real world” touch to the lesson, local professionals join the discussion and offer their perspective, thus adding immediate relevance to why the topic or issue is important.

Sounds futuristic?

Think again. When Lake Region High School was tagged as an underachieving school this year, the district decided to seize the opportunity to restructure its educational approach. Through the use of federal funds, administration and Team Leaders (representing the core subject areas) looked to make a dramatic shift in how learning would be pursued. The group developed an innovative model — 21st century learning — which could be a cutting-edge approach that other school systems could eventually inquire about and follow.

“The message we received was that the status quo was not acceptable,” SAD 61 Superintendent of Schools Patrick Philips said. “Through research and careful planning, we believe this model will better prepare our students for the challenges they will face in a changing and competitive world.”

The restructuring plan revolves around the concept of “21st century learning” — the skills and knowledge students must master to be successful in work, post-secondary study and life in today’s global world.

The plan calls for students to learn essential skills — such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration — to enable them to compete and succeed in the very competitive marketplace.

“We needed to rethink how our high school should be shaped to do a better job in preparing our kids for a complex future,” LRHS Principal Ted Finn said.

While core subjects (English, world languages, arts, mathematics, economics, science, geography, history and government/civics) remain somewhat the same, the plan calls for students to undertake 21st century “interdisciplinary themes.” They include: global awareness, financial/economic/business and entrepreneurial literacy, civil literacy, health literacy and environmental literacy.

Team Leaders Roger Smith, Sandy Arris, Donald Weafer and Barry Johnson, along with Principal Finn unveiled the restructuring plan to the SAD 61 School Board last week at Crooked River Adult and Community Education Center in Casco. Directors gave their initial approval of the plan, which leaders say continues to be adjusted.

New way of thinking

Citing an article that appeared in the New York Times entitled, “Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits,” Team Leader Roger Smith (Social Studies department head) feels the restructured plan bridges a variety of gaps — too little time in class, too much time between class meetings and too much inefficient use of time — that impeded student growth and readiness for college or life beyond high school.

The “new” LRHS learning experience will be a far cry from the traditional classroom.

Gone will be the days where students sit at a desk, listen to a 80-plus minute lecture and take notes.

Now, students will work collaboratively and take more innovative approaches in studying various topics. For example, if the unit of study is “Famine in Africa,” students would examine social, political and economic factors that contribute to the spread of famine during their Social Studies time; read fiction novels that give students a deeper understanding of the culture of the region during English period; and learn the science behind the innovative farming techniques being used to create sustainable farming communities during Science class.

Facing a far more complex life and work environment, students will need to be able to think creatively, be able to develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others, be able to reason effectively, adapt to change, analyze and solve problems, individually and as a member of a team. These skills will be developed within the classroom setting.

Under this restructuring plan, the program is divided into two — Studio (core subjects, Grades 9-10) vs. Academy (21st century themes, Grades 11-12) — and would follow a trimester format. Sixty-percent of a students day would be focused on Studio/Academy time, while the remaining 40% would include “essentials and enrichment programs” such as fine arts, world languages, advanced placement, other electives and vocational opportunities.

When a task force looked at why students were underperforming, the word “apathy” emerged over and over again. This new approach looks to create an environment where learning has “relevance,” “rigor” and developing better “relationships” between student and teacher. The program also leaves space for “student-centered learning,” which enables teens to select classes that build upon their interests and strengths.

Not only will students change their approach in how they learn, teachers will face a steep learning curve in how they deliver information and work with colleagues. This transition will be aided by special professional development sessions, funded by federal dollars SAD 61 accepted as part of the school improvement plan.

Administration and Team Leaders liked the educational model presently used at Casco Bay High School in Portland, and added some other components. Officials cited that 98% of Casco Bay H.S. seniors pursued post-secondary options. While LRHS had 75% of last year’s senior class moving on to higher education, officials believe this new approach — which will be more engaging and clearly show students why learning is important — could push that figure higher.

While a great deal of work remains, officials believe the 21st century learning model puts Lake Region H.S. on the right path.

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