Forging their own paths

Fifty-years ago, book reports required three things: the book, paper and a pencil.

On Friday, a class of Lafayette High School sophomores used a little bit more including a 3D model of an island, an iPad and a robot to interpret William Golding's classic "Lord of the Flies."

"Together the kids were block-coding and they were able to demonstrate their understanding of an assigned character and a conflict that character went through in the novel," English teacher Amanda Snelling said.

That robot, meant to represent a character, can be programmed using computer coding to roll, hop, vibrate and change color as it travels around students' model islands.

Snelling has spent the past year on a team designing Lafayette's version of Warhill High School's Pathways Program, which was to have expanded to the division's other two high schools this fall.

Warhill's project-based learning program launched last year. Warhill staff turned two $50,000 Virginia Department of Education learning grants and a partnership with the College of William and Mary into a four-year, non-traditional high school curriculum for 100 students.

Jamestown and Lafayette shared another $50,000 planning grant from VDOE, but citing a tight budget, in February the School Board delayed the expansion until 2018-19.

The planning teams at each school pressed on anyway.

"I would say the dedication to it did not change," Lafayette principal Anita Swinton said. "When (the team) learned we could do it as a pilot, they just kept moving hard and just kept doing everything they could, making sure curriculums were ready."

Both will debut a smaller pilot program in the fall, incorporating their plans for expansion into courses available to 75 incoming freshmen. Lafayette's, called Linc5, is focused on leadership and entrepreneurship while Jamestown's Concourse 9 has a medical and health theme.

Pathways-lite

They mirror Pathways in a number of ways: a focus on collaboration, project-based learning and career preparation.

"The program helps students have the why, answer the why — 'why are we reading this, why are we doing this?'" Lafayette English teacher Jennifer Stanley said.

Stanley will teach the English part of Lafayette's Linc5 next year and was one of more than 20 teachers and staff in charge of creating the new curriculum.

Jamestown and Lafayette each planned five blended courses over four class periods — two in the fall and two in the spring — giving those freshmen one additional credit over their first-year peers. Outside of those two blocks, students will take elective classes with the rest of the students.

At Warhill, the program has two integrated courses for each cohort of students, humanities and physics by design. Its program stands alone from regular classes, but Warhill students participate in other school activities and sports.

One major difference is that any Williamburg-James City County rising ninth grader can apply to Warhill's program. Only those zoned for Jamestown or Lafayette can apply to each schools' pilot program.

Linc5

Integrating technology and collaborating across disciplines will be key, Snelling said. Linc5 courses include English, science, social studies, business and art.

She worked with instructional technology teacher Ashley Hurst on this year's robot project, but Snelling said next year, art teacher Molly Peet could help students build the islands while biology teacher Minoo Srivastava helps them understand the real landscape.

"It's really exciting to be able to have a group of students (where) you know what content they're getting, you can talk with the teachers," Peet said. "Instead of having to bring in a whole set of information or ideas that are unrelated to what they're doing in their other classes, we know that we can talk about stuff that they're reading in English and relate it, and they all have that same knowledge base."

Each project will teach students something about leadership and problem solving, because those are skills students need regardless of their future, Swinton said.

Concourse 9

Jamestown's five courses follow a similar mold: English, biology, world history, speech and art foundations, principal Cathy Worley said.

Like Warhill, Jamestown and Lafayette will incorporate technology — each student will have a laptop to take home — and some online blended learning.

Jamestown students will complete small projects as well as two comprehensive ones each semester, Worley said.

"The projects have a health and medical science theme, but are still suited for any student looking for this kind of learning experience," Jamestown science curriculum leader Kristin Cosby said. "There's a lot of room for differentiation among the students."

Worley said overall it's student-centered learning, and they don't want to limit any creativity.

Adjusting for the future

What will happen next year is less clear, but all of the teachers said they'd keep this program moving even if Pathways expansion is delayed again. If it's not, then they already have a base from which they can grow.

Jeffery Carroll spearheaded the Pathways program as Warhill's principal but come June he'll take on the challenge of overseeing middle and high school curriculums as one of the division's new assistant superintendents.

"In my new role, it'll be looking at what worked well or didn't work well to try to help guide the two initiatives at Lafayette and Jamestown and apply lessons learned," Carroll said.

Carroll said about 85 of the original 100 will be taking on Pathways for a second year.

The freshmen take two courses blended together, one in math and science and one in English and social studies — a more traditional pairing, Carroll said.

For sophomores, he's shaking things up. They will take a combination of world geography and statistics, and biology will be paired with English.

All three programs are designed to be non-traditional experiences, Srivastava said.

"This whole program is going to expose them to the real world, rather than the real school world," Srivastava said. "This is the innovation in education where they are getting exposed to a mini-world that we are going to simulate for them — group work, collaboration, design thinking, making a product, solving a problem. So just like how they would see things in the real world."

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

Want to apply?

Applications are due May 24.

Warhill Pathways (open to all W-JCC rising freshmen): visit wjccschools.org/thepathwaysproject/whs/.

Jamestown Concourse 9 (open to only Jamestown-zoned rising freshmen): wjccschools.org/jhs/concourse-9/.

Lafayette Linc5 (open to only Lafayette-zoned rising freshmen): wjccschools.org/lhs/linc5/.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette