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Academy enhances curriculum

2013_08_15_MMA courses.jpg
MMA cadets Savannah DeBlieck and Jonathan Buffington learn about programming robots, a typical hands-on lesson in Project Lead the Way. The expanded curriculum is being offered this year to middle school students. Courtesy photo. (Buy photo)

MMA students will study automation, robotics; drama, journalism offered

By Kim Walter

Middle and high school students attending Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock can expect to see a few changes in their course options this school year.

The academy recently announced the implementation of the Project Lead the Way. All MMA middle school cadets will participate in the year-long curriculum which specializes in automation and robotics.

Cadets will engage in collaborative, critical thinking lessons and activities while learning about mechanical systems, energy transfer, machine automation, and computer control systems.

Merle Henkel, head of school, said the school is always looking to expand student opportunities that will give them an advantage in the real world.

"This will be a relevant, challenging class that will offer real life skills at an early age," he said. "Whether they decide to go on to college or not, these kids can begin to understand the application of this subject matter to future work opportunities."

The academy's middle school students were already participating in the STARBASE Academy in Winchester, which also revolves around the STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Project Lead the Way is a STEM program.

Kim Elshafie, MMA's academic dean, said students showed great interest in STARBASE, so she pursued a way to fit similar curriculum into the seventh- and eighth-grade students' schedules.

MMA already had a teacher who was certified to work with Project Lead the Way, so the application process only took about two months.

"We're very excited to introduce this to our young students," Elshafie said. "We already know that big companies are paying attention to STEM programs ... these are areas that are really being pushed in education."

She added that students can add the program and related projects to their resume or college application to give them an edge.

The academy isn't just improving its STEM course offerings, though.

High school students at MMA can now participate in a drama or journalism program.

"We realize it isn't just about the science and math," Henkel said. "We have to cover the humanities and arts, too. Of course we want our students to be well-rounded individuals -- it's important."

MMA didn't have to hire any additional teachers, since one faculty member was already leading a yearbook program. A history teacher also had a background with journalism programs.

The drama program will be year long, and conclude with some type of performance, Elshafie said. Additionally, if students can't fit the program into their day schedule, they will have the opportunity to take on evening projects and activities instead.

High school students also will have the opportunity to choose from nine advanced placement classes as opposed to the previously offered four.

Another Project Lead the Way curriculum will likely be available for high school students sometime next year, Elshafie added.

The academy's board recently developed a new strategic plan focused on a fresh look at the future in the hope that it would make students excited to not only come to MMA in the first place, but to make them want to come back.

"With all our military history and tradition, we are a school first," Henkel said. "We're looking to offer programs that satisfy the need and interest of every student we serve while continuously preparing them for their next steps in life."

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com

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