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Yellow Springs School Board— Group to create mediation protocol for PBL

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The Yellow Springs High School’s Student Relations Board, a group of students and teachers, will be reconfiguring the project-based learning, or PBL, contracts signed by students in each class, with the intent of developing a mediation protocol for how the PBL teams deal with conflict — what is the best course of action when  students aren’t pulling their weight as part of the team?

McKinney and YSHS principal Tim Krier, wrote that his hope is that the group will find ways to increase positive peer pressure and student accountability when it comes to working as PBL teams, according to a handout distributed at last week’s school board meeting.

When undertaking a project as a PBL team, students decide as a group how to tackle the work their project will require. The teams define the questions that need to be asked, divide up the work and develop “communication norms,” said Krier at the Nov. 10 meeting. The outcome of these discussions are entered into a Google doc and then signed, signifying the group’s commitment to uphold the agreement. However, as is sometimes the case in working in teams, some students may do less work than others, or some students may be less willing to share their work with the group.

If a situation like this arises and further collaboration is no longer a viable option, the teams need to have a way to positively annul a student’s membership in a PBL team, Krier said, or provide an option for restorative justice for those students who have made mistakes and want to “own” their errors and fix the problem. The mediation protocol being discussed by the student relations board will ideally streamline this process, he said.

The mediation protocol is one part of the developing PBL program, and a contingency plan that is good to have on paper, Krier said. Such an event has only happened once so far, he said, and “all students involved felt really bad about it.” The group is also currently brainstorming ways for the “annulled” student to continue learning the objectives of the lesson, but separate from the group. Some options include alternative research strategies or modified assignments or projects. No concrete options are currently in place, Krier said, but they are forthcoming.

Developing such a protocol is not just for students who aren’t pulling their weight, but also to encourage positive collaboration habits for all students, he said. Students need to learn how to say ‘no,’ mediate conflict and overall become comfortable working as peers with their teammates. 

“We want them to be able to work it out themselves, but we want them to feel comfortable taking further steps if needed,” Krier clarified this week.

In other school board business:

• McKinney science teacher Becca Eastman and YSHS and McKinney art teacher Karleen Materne gave a follow-up presentation of September’s “Into the Wild” biking and camping trip, in which McKinney seventh graders biked and canoed almost 60 miles over the course of three days, stopping for lessons along the way. Students spoke about their favorite aspects of the trip, which included a macroinvertebrate study and some students’ surprise at being able to complete such a physically demanding trip. Materne presented a five-minute clip from an upcoming documentary about the trip, which is being put together by a group of students as part of their follow-up project. While there is a significant amount of work left to do on the documentary, Materne said, she and her students are finding the work rewarding and exciting.

• Students at Mills Lawn elementary will be taking an online English Language Arts, or ELA, test this week, the first school in the district to adopt a test taken exclusively online. The testing is state-mandated and will be taken by the district’s third graders. All answers will have to be typed. This is the first time that district students have taken such a test.  

In preparation for the digital exam, students were given some tech tutoring, including practice exams, in order to “remove any technology barriers to ensure our students are comfortable enough to give their best effort on the assessment,” according to a handout distributed at last week’s meeting. 

Online testing is not what the district wants to focus on, said Mills Lawn principal Matt Housh at the meeting. “If we had it our way, we would’ve stuck with paper and pencil.” 

Nevertheless, the district is prepping for more testing in the spring, which will likewise be conducted online. The training process undertaken by students and staff for the fall test will help the district roll out training for the springtime exams, stated Housh, to be taken by grades 3–6.

• Seven architectural firms submitted their qualifications after the district published a request for qualifications last month. One firm will be chosen to help the district assess the quality of the existing school buildings, and to elucidate what options the district may have in refurbishing them or constructing new buildings. The firm will also lead a campaign to gauge public interest, which will ultimately determine what kind of work — if any — the district will do on the buildings. Superintendent Mario Basora reported that all but two of the firms had extensive experience with public schools.

A committee of teachers, parents and administrators will look through the qualifications, and will then present the top three contenders to the board for further consideration. The three firms will be interviewed at a public board meeting, likely in February.

• Board member Steve Conn was officially selected as the board’s representative on the board of the Greene County Career Center.

• Superintendent Basora announced the creation of a new award that will be given annually to “folks who have given a tremendous amount of time, energy and love” to the district. A trophy was presented to Maureen Lynch and Richard Lapedes, Yellow Springs, after whom the Lapedes/Lynch Bulldog Backer Award is named. According to Basora, the couple have been actively involved with the promotion of PBL in school. 

“Without them, there’s no way PBL would be where it is,” he said. 

Lapedes and Lynch accepted the award and congratulations from the board.

“The district takes every dollar and uses it with great wisdom,” Lapedes said.

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