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School Notes: Lebanon Offers a ‘Learning Studio’

  • In his Learning Studies class Lebanon High School senior Dana Osmer talks to another classmate about his project. Osmer's project is about how media has changed history.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    In his Learning Studies class Lebanon High School senior Dana Osmer talks to another classmate about his project. Osmer's project is about how media has changed history. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon High School teacher Kirsha Frye-Matte talks with a student about their project. Frye-Matte co-teaches the class.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    Lebanon High School teacher Kirsha Frye-Matte talks with a student about their project. Frye-Matte co-teaches the class. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • At Lebanon High School teacher Jason Tetu explains something to senior Deneale Hunter at the white board. Hunter's project is about how farming has changed  and how it may change in the future.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

    At Lebanon High School teacher Jason Tetu explains something to senior Deneale Hunter at the white board. Hunter's project is about how farming has changed and how it may change in the future. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »

  • In his Learning Studies class Lebanon High School senior Dana Osmer talks to another classmate about his project. Osmer's project is about how media has changed history.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • Lebanon High School teacher Kirsha Frye-Matte talks with a student about their project. Frye-Matte co-teaches the class.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
  • At Lebanon High School teacher Jason Tetu explains something to senior Deneale Hunter at the white board. Hunter's project is about how farming has changed  and how it may change in the future.   Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

For a fledgling hip-hop dancer like Sydnee Reedy, there aren’t many options in Lebanon for expressing herself through dance. The city has only a handful of dance studios, and she says she can’t afford their standard class fees.

“With no money, you can’t go very far to try and do those things,” said Reedy, a Lebanon High School junior. So she is researching affordable opportunities for students to express themselves — and she’s receiving class credit.

Reedy is among the students enrolled in the Learning Studios class at Lebanon, which asks students to identify a way they can improve their community, and come up with a realistic plan for doing so. Though Lebanon teachers Kirsha Frye-Matte and Jason Tetu are there to guide students, the Learning Studios students have chosen their own issues to investigate and are crafting ways to put their research into action. And they can apply the credit toward graduation, in areas such as English and social studies, to name two.

“We’ve taken the approach that we wanted it to be student-centered, student-driven,” Tetu said. “Every student is free to take that in any direction they wish in terms of their interests.” Students are still in various phases of their projects, but some are already seeing positive results. One dance studio that Reedy approached said they would consider allowing teens to volunteer at the studio in exchange for reduced prices. “I feel good about it,” Reedy said, because she knows she’s not the only teen who wants to hone her craft at an affordable rate.

While Reedy and her classmates are hard at work on their individual endeavors, they’re also helping educators envision how a 21st-century classroom might evolve.

In 2011, the New Hampshire Department of Education, along with the education departments in six other states, launched the Next Generation Learning initiative. The states are collaborating with groups like the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation to determine how the classroom of the future would best serve students, and how those students could best reach their learning potential while also acquiring the skills they’ll need for higher education and the workforce. Seven schools across the state, including Lebanon, signed on for the “Learning Studios” initiative.

A need to prepare students to be independent thinkers, whether they’re headed for post-high school studies or employment, was the impetus behind Next Generation Learning. The economic downturn of the last few years and a changing workforce have made schools re-evaluate the skills that students must have when they graduate. What’s clear, Tetu said, is that students will have to tackle challenging issues. “If we have them solve a problem of their choosing at this level, they’ll be able to transfer the skill,” Tetu said.

Last spring, the first group of students enrolled in the first Learning Studios class, taught by Tetu and the late Natalie Perriello, which focused on government in action. It was a new, untested class, but it drew students who wanted to seek solutions to problems they saw in Lebanon’s student life. As part of the class, Haley Jones, now a senior, looked into weaknesses of the school’s parking policy. She said Tetu “stressed that however I wanted to make a difference, I could.”

Chris Powers, a 2012 Lebanon graduate, was concerned about what he felt was a lack of privacy that administrators afforded students. “Normally I didn’t like to do challenging things,” he said, but “we had such a large selection of things to research.” But the students’ individual projects were effectively shelved late in April, when Perriello was killed in her Grantham home. Her husband has been charged with her murder.

“The last couple of weeks, we spent on her,” Powers said. Working with two classmates, Powers wrote the wording for and established requirements for the Natalie Perriello Hope Scholarship, which will be awarded to students who have overcome obstacles in their lives and who wish to pursue careers in education, but lack the finances to do so. Students in the class also hatched the idea for a walkathon that raised $3,000 for a trust fund for Perriello’s four children.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget when her parents showed up at the end … They were so thankful we did it,” said Jones.

“It was the best feeling ever. It was like: This is why we did it, right here,’ ” added her classmate Dylan Drew.

The class’ emphasis on finding ways to improve community took on a renewed meaning after the tragedy. “We saw an opportunity to make an impact, not only on the school, but the community,” said senior Erin McClory, an alumna of last year’s Learning Studios.

This year’s batch of Learning Studios participants are waist-deep in their research on topics ranging from the effects of pop culture on society to environmental issues.

The latter is a concern of senior Mat Cowles. His mother was born in Haiti, where vast deforestation is taking place as many Haitians still use wood for cooking. He also wants to educate people about the long-term effects of water and air pollution. “I just want people to know what’s going on,” he said.

Sitting next to Cowles on Friday, junior Ben Whitaker was considering the ways that popular music influences society, for good and for ill. In his research, he’s discovered that older people have approached the music that younger generations enjoy with caution; think Elvis in the ‘50s or rap and hip-hop today. One negative aspect of popular music that Whitaker sees is violent lyrics found in many songs. “We shouldn’t let it lead us to believe that some things are OK,” he said.

Whitaker said he joined the class with the encouragement of Lebanon Principal Nan Parsons. “She really wanted me to try it out and thought I’d do well in this class,” he said.

The verdict so far?

“I like it. It makes a lot more sense than the structure of a normal class,” Whitaker said.

As for Cowles, it’s the class’ self-directed nature that he appreciates. “You have this whole period to focus on what you want to do,” he said.

That makes it easier for teachers, too, in Tetu’s view, because having the students pilot their own projects leads to more motivation and engagement. “The nice thing about it is that it’s easier to redirect the student when it’s their project,” he said.

There are still kinks to iron out in the Learning Studios experience, such as grading. Giving students a traditional letter grade is difficult, since they are all working at their own pace.

“Those management pieces in terms of tracking data and where those kids are, that’s the challenging piece to keep in your head … The rest of it is fun,” Tetu said.

Events

Students in Thetford Academy’s meal planning and preparation class will serve bread and soup at the Thetford Academy Alumni Association Craft Bazaar on Saturday as part of the Empty Bowls Project, which will raise money for the Thetford Food Shelf. A donation of $20 is suggested. The bazaar will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and admission is free.

Achievements

Lebanon High School student Will Weatherly was chosen as one of seven high school finalists and Unity Elementary School student Hannah Lea Clark was one of nine middle school finalists in the 2012 New Hampshire Constitution Day Essay Contest. Students were asked to consider whether the Constitution allows or prohibits employers and school administrators from asking job seekers, students and employees for their passwords and usernames to social media sites. Clark and Weatherly were selected as finalists in the Valley News’ circulation area by several of the paper’s editors. More than 500 New Hampshire students submitted essays in this year’s contest.

School Notes appears on Tuesdays. Email news and announcement to schoolnotes@vnews.com by 5 p.m. Thursday for possible inclusion the following Tuesday.

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