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YSHS students teach PBL to others

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At the school board meeting on Nov. 12, board members and administrators discussed how the district will continue to evolve with its Project-Based Learning (PBL) methodology. The feeling at the meeting was that PBL has so far been a success, and successful to the degree that the Yellow Springs district has caught the eye of other Ohio schools interested in such an approach to education.

YSHS and McKinney Principal Tim Krier told of the recent adventures of YSHS students and teachers who travelled to Lakeland Community College to teach a two-day class on PBL to students and teachers from Wickliffe and Perry Local Schools. Approximately 50 students and 10 teachers attended the workshop, which took place over Thursday and Friday, Oct. 22 and 23. Students got a hint of the rigors of the real world by working all day both days, including working lunches.

The workshop began with individual students from Yellow Springs working with a group of 4-5 Perry or Wickliffe students on “micro-PBL” projects. For example, students worked for two hours on constructing prototypes for shelters for Syrian refugees. The groups of students developed the shelters, ran them through revision processes, and ultimately built them.
The idea was that Perry and Wickliffe students would take the lessons learned in the shelter project and apply them when developing the projects they will work on at their respective schools over the next seven weeks.
The “driving question” of the workshop (and of PBL in general) was how the implementation of these projects can impact the school community in a positive way, Krier said. YSHS students can use their experience as teachers to streamline the creation of projects and clubs at their own school, he said, which they will be doing.

More generally, tasking students with the multifaceted responsibility of helming a project not only benefits students from an educational perspective but endows them with life skills applicable to countless other endeavors, said Yellow Springs School Superintendent Mario Basora.

Krier said that other teachers were wowed by the maturity of Yellow Springs students, and Basora noted that the symposium — partly because of the professionalism and enthusiasm of Yellow Springs’ 10 students in attendance — was nothing less than “one of the most incredible things [he’s] ever seen in education.”

YS students will continue to work with Perry and Wickliffe students on their projects over the next seven weeks. The projects will be shown to the community at the YSHS Exhibition Night on December 16, with the other schools presenting their projects at the gala via the internet.

In other school board business:
• Krier said that after three years of PBL in Yellow Springs schools, teachers, students, and administrators are now more familiar with the successes and difficulties of the educational philosophy. Thanks to the staff’s experiences, the more obvious problems can be sorted out as they arise, he said, but the more subtle aspects of the school’s relationship to PBL are still being explored and evaluated.

“We are developing a more nuanced understanding of this work and wrestling with concepts that encompass much more than curriculum and teaching strategies,” said Mills Lawn principal Matt Housh.

To that end, school policies that address more “traditional” approaches to schooling may be incongruent with the aims of PBL, said Krier, which is why it’s important to get teachers involved in rethinking these policies. He announced that he is forming the 10+ Committee to do just that.

“The mission is to examine the rationale of what we do and why we do it, and to develop recommendations for clear, school-wide processes and policies that align with our emerging efforts at deeper learning,” said Krier. Specifically, the committee will discuss policies on student attendance, late and missing work, report cards, and grading. For example, accruing nine absences in a semester means that a student will fail a course, Basora said, and oftentimes no credit is given for work turned in late.

A pass-fail approach is in direct conflict with the critique and revision process of PBL, he said, stating, “[Old] systemic practices have not caught up with the pedagogic shift of PBL.”

Krier and four other volunteer teachers, intervention specialists, and administrators will make up the 10+ Committee.

School board President Aïda Merhemic asked if a student review board would have a voice in the committee’s conversation. It’s important to give a sense of agency and voice to the student body, Krier said, and students already meet with teachers and administrators once a month to share problems and suggestions. Once the 10+ Committee gets started, these student/administrator meetings will address how students can fit in to the conversation concerning policy reevaluation.

• Superintendent Basora stated that there are 713 students enrolled in grades K–12 for the 2015–16 school year, which is the lowest number of enrollees since 2013. The district is losing 59 graduating students but bringing in 44 new kindergartners. The district needs to figure out how to draw more students to fill these gaps, Basora said.

Approximately 13 percent of students in the Yellow Springs district go elsewhere for schooling, according to District Treasurer Dawn Bennett. The number of district students attending private schools and other kindergartens is consistent with past years, but an increase in students being homeschooled or attending charter schools — currently at 22 — accounts for some of the decrease in YS schools, said Basora. This is a great student–teacher ratio, he said, but the low number of students and the factors that may be causing it is something the district needs to make sure it is addressing, if it can be addressed.

However, the district has found that there simply aren’t as many families with school-age children as there have been in past years. It’s not that students have been leaving in record numbers — the 13 percent of students attending school elsewhere is consistent with other years — but that there are overall fewer students in the district.

In order to close some of these gaps, the district has embarked on an awareness campaign to draw students from outside the district, said Basora. This school year also has the highest number of open enrollment students at 178, he said, and in fact the district had to turn some of these students away.

The number of students in kindergarten was discussed as a factor in the district’s various enrollment questions. The school was eight kids short of opening a third kindergarten section, though there are approximately 22 kids per class, which is high for a kindergarten class, Housh said. Adding a third kindergarten section would be good for enrollment numbers, as more students in kindergarten typically means that more students stay in the district through graduation, Basora said, but a third class would also have posed a problem of space. Housh explained that students, teachers, and schedules would have to be moved around to accommodate another kindergarten section, and current students need use of the resource room that would likely have to be forfeited in the process.

• The Board discussed an increase in the daily rates paid to substitute teachers, from $80 to $90 per day. Yellow Springs’ compensation is on the “low end of the pay rate.” (Sugarcreek pays $85/day and the Greene County Career Center pays $90, for example.) The hope is that a more competitive pay rate will draw more subs, said Basora. The $10 per day increase will cost the district an estimated $10,000 per year. A proposal for this increase will be presented to the board in December.

• Kathryn “Kati” Burkland, the Spanish teacher at YSHS, will be retiring at the end of the school year after 18 years of teaching at Yellow Springs. She was described by the board as a “very loved and dear teacher,” one whose “fundamental, number-one concern is kids,” and one who has inspired kids to study, travel, and live internationally. Burkland began teaching in Yellow Springs after living and working in Colombia for a number of years, and in her letter of resignation says that she is privileged to have worked with the district’s wonderful students, highly qualified colleagues, staff and administrators.

• Board member Steven Conn reported that the Greene County Career Center is planning to have a Beavercreek firm look into the logistics of restructuring the GCCC as an aerospace-centric career center, owing to the proximity of WPAFB and the fact that there are no other programs like it in the county, not to mention that 25 percent of the United States’ astronauts are from Ohio.

• The Thursday. Dec. 12 school board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. instead of the customary 7 p.m.


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YSHS students teach PBL to others

by Dylan Taylor-Lehman