Central High School envisions major educational changes

WOODSTOCK – Central High School is in the running to receive a $10 million dollar grant to redesign the school to meet the needs of the 21st-century student.

There were 750 qualified grant submissions sent in from 45 states with 348 schools, including Central High School, moving on to the next round in the process.

Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, has designed this project to challenge schools to reinvent and reimagine education for the future. XQ: The Super Schools Project will select at least five schools to receive $10 million each to put these plans into action.

The application process to enter the challenge was intense, Principal Melissa Hensley said. The application included both written and video entries explaining what the school would do with the grant money. Over 100 students submitted ideas to include.

“Students want change,” she said. “They want something different from what we’re currently offering. They know this isn’t working for them.”

English teacher Tara Mason said they wanted to “find the voice of lots of people, especially the students because the design is centered around them.”

Special education teacher Kristina Zaccaria added that the application process required using all different types of people, including local businesses and community members in addition to those in the school system.

Jacob Pearson, 18, of Edinburg, a senior at Central, said if they received the grant they would like to see both structural and programmatic changes made within the school. These changes include becoming better users of technology and creating more collaboration between students and teachers.

He added that students are really excited about the potential changes because they are having their voices heard about the way they want to be taught.

Rebekah Ansbro, 18, of Woodstock, a senior at Central, said they want to see more students’ passions met, such as increasing STEM programs and creating new programs like business classes.

“We didn’t always necessarily agree but I don’t think that was a bad thing because we were able to see from all points of view and come up with ideas that could suit all of us,” she said about the way students and teachers brought ideas to the table when deciding on what needed to change within the school.

Hensley added, “A lot of what we really want to do is provide a much more authentic learning experience for students.” The students want classes and programs that will allow them to be more successful when they graduate and find a job that suits their passions.

“A lot of what happens is going to be about student choice and comfort in this building. If we got the grant you would see a massive redesign of this building, which would be geared towards student comfort, but then the choice of how they learn and personalizing the learning opportunities that they have.”

Because of these programmatic changes they want to make, they have looked at an academy model of teaching where students can focus on a field of study, such as agriculture, and receive a more personalized learning experience.

By using an academy model, the school would get rid of the traditional bell schedule by structuring the day around individualized learning. Classrooms would be redesigned away from the current industrialized model and move into a “learning labs” set up where both students and teachers would move from room to room. Labs for science, technology, engineering, agriculture, arts would all have separate spaces for student learning.

Zaccaria said integration of the various classes is also something teachers and students would like to see be implemented.

“We want that idea of integrated learning more than anything,” she said. “No longer studying science in isolation from math and isolation from English. It’s not the way you do it. Once you move to the next phase of your life, that’s what we do. It all gets pieced together, and yet we all still sit in these classrooms isolated from one another.”

Tripp Ennis, library media specialist, said all these changes will empower students to “make decisions and take leadership roles and to be ready for 21st century learning.”

Ansbro said the goal of these changes is to “make kids want to come to school.” To make this happen, programs need to be individualized and students need to feel like they can openly speak with teachers about what they want to gain from what they are learning and how lesson plans can be improved to meet the needs of more students.

Hensley said she would like to create a welcoming and comfortable area where students and faculty can sit down and talk about what interests them in an informal setting.

Central High School is currently in the development phase and will receive an expert consultant to help move it forward in the challenge. The school will be hearing from this consultant by the end of the month and then will be notified on Aug. 4 if Central has been selected as a winner.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com