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Academy students travel to mentor children

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Taller, more-experienced students file out of a bright yellow school bus and into the halls of the small elementary school with high hopes, as the younger children stare up at them in awe, almost as if they are about to pull out a pen and ask for the older students’ autographs.  The air is filled with the spark of excitement and joy of the arrival of the Academy students, and they knew then this day of new experiences was going to be one to remember.

The students in the newly-founded school program, The Freshman Academy, visited McAuliffe Heights, a local elementary school, on Monday Oct. 15.  The ninth grade students traveled to the school to teach the younger children about the effects of bullying and the advantages of friendship.

The Freshmen Academy is a pilot program consisting of around fifty ninth grade honors students and has been running since the beginning of the 2014 school year.  The program is thought to have the makings of the “real world” as, Lori Brown, the Algebra II facilitator of the program likes to say.  Instead of a teacher lecturing a class the whole time, the students do more hands-on activities which they would not really have the chance to do in regular honors.

“Learners really have a chance to take charge of their education; it gives them a choice of how they want to learn. It also allows them to be responsible for their pacing,”  Brown said.  “The learners don’t necessarily rely on the teacher for the information, but they actually have to be able to figure out the information for themselves.”

Though, certain pieces of the Academy course have not gone as smoothly for the students as Brown described.

“Towards the beginning I really didn’t know how to space out my time, so it was a bit stressful,” Laighla Wisor, a ninth grade student enrolled in the Academy said.

Before enrolling in the Academy, the students attended an assembly explaining what the Academy program consisted of.  After seeing what the Academy had to offer, there were a lot of mixed feelings about the program–some were negative and others were positive.

“When I first heard about it, I thought it was a really cool opportunity, first because you got a college credit from it and two because I also thought it was a very interesting way to learn in such a different way; I struggled in math, so I found that learning in the Academy helped me a lot more than a pen and paper did,” Wisor said.  “It’s actually a lot of fun and we get a lot of cool opportunities for being in it.  But I definitely like the Academy now since I’m used to how everything works.”

Laighla isn’t the only student who likes the Academy. Kathy Morgan, the English facilitator in the Academy said, “We took a survey of our learners and the overall response was very positive.”

Being in the Academy means that they have many more opportunities than a regular student in the junior high school would.  Only two months into school and the program has already had more exciting events than a typical class would have all year.

“We’ve done bridge projects,” Morgan said.  “In which learners partnered up with students at McAuliffe Heights and participated in activities about bullying and friendship.  We are also partnering up with a seventh grade team for a S.T.E.M project.”

“Another S.T.E.M connection we made was with the St. Francis Science Outreach Program; we did a little food chemistry lesson.  In addition, we also did a lesson on the ‘Golden Ratio’–we try to incorporate some other things besides Honors Algebra II and English curriculum,”  Brown also said.

As Morgan already stated, one of the bigger projects they students have done is the field trip to McAuliffe Heights on Oct. 13 where they taught elementary children about friendship and bullying.  Most of the people involved said the trip was a success.

“I had so much fun!” Wisor said, “I really loved my class. I taught a class of first graders, and they were all so sweet and really welcoming for us.  It was also a really cool experience to see how you have to keep the children’s attention, which was kind of difficult.  When we first went into the classroom, we really didn’t notice that we had to take into account that they were only in first grade, and that they don’t understand some of the words we used.  So, as the lesson went on we had to cut down on the bigger words and kind of had to tell them what the words meant, which we hadn’t anticipated, but it was a great experience overall.”

“I think it was a beneficial for both our Academy learners and the McAuliffe Heights learners.  Even the teachers commented on how wonderful the trip was,” Brown also said.

Though all this success just didn’t happen over night.  Jonathan Klingeman, the principal at McAuliffe Heights, actually played a role in the creation of the Academy and helped out a lot with the fieldtrip.

“It was nice to have an accessible connection.  He was a former colleague of ours, and that made the connection a lot easier… He was a part of the creation of the Academy, so he made sure everything happened.  He was one of the foundations of the trip.  He was instrumental in making sure everything went smoothly and that the necessary forms were filled out and all of the other stuff,”  Brown said.

The Academy students split up teaching the elementary students by breaking up into groups and each group being able to teach a class.  There were two classes per grade and there were from two to four people in each teaching group.  Then each group had to create up a lesson plan and teach it to the class they were assigned to.

“Our lesson was about friendship.. We made ‘friendship soup,’ which just consisted of us having this big recipe card on the board, and we had a bunch of different ingredients that represented the different parts of the good friendship which we had the children pick which ones they wanted, and then they got to put it into this big ‘soup bowl’ we brought and made the soup in front of the class.  They got to keep the recipe card to remind them of what a good friend consisted of,” Wisor said.

Ending the trip, the Academy students got to eat lunch with their class and end the day get a group picture outside McAuliffe Heights. Some ninth graders were very moved by how genuine the children were–some students even cried, promising it wouldn’t be long until they saw them again.

“We have plans to, throughout the year, go back to McAuliffe Heights to check up on our class with our groups as a whole Academy group.. However, with people in my inquiry group (inquiry group/inquiry projects are basically questions we have to answer in a project) I’m going to go back and interview fifth and sixth graders for my inquiry project about dialect. I’m also going to pop in and visit my first grade class and see how they’re doing,” Wisor said.

Even with the Academy being a pilot program with a bunch of new-program kinks, most of the students and both facilitators wouldn’t give up the Academy.  They wouldn’t trade it even if they could go back and tell themselves all of what they know now about the program.

“No, not at all,” Morgan said.  “Even with all the work, I’d still do it in a heartbeat.”

“I think I would do the Academy, actually.  The Academy, although it has its faults, I’m doing just as well as I am in other classes–sometimes better.  Also, we get so many different opportunities, and it’s something new that nobody else in the whole world ever has gotten to do.  So, it’s pretty cool and I hope that they continue this throughout our high school years,” Wisor said.

In addition to the McAuliffe Heights trip, the Academy has gotten recognition from Pennsylvania Department of Education on Thursday Oct. 30.  The students used the junior high school’s library to conduct a ‘show’ where they presented all the projects the program had accomplished so far this year.  Some local news stations even traveled to cover the event.  “The students made a great impression on the everyone who was there,” Brown said to the students.

 

Smiling faces of both the Academy students and the McAuliffe Heights children is all you can see during the field trip to the elementary school.  Second grade students pose for a photograph while they bond with their ninth grade friends during lunch.  The Academy students traveled McAuliffe Heights on Monday Oct.  15, and the trip was said to be very successful.
Smiling faces of both the Academy students and the McAuliffe Heights children is all you can see during the field trip to the elementary school. Second grade students pose for a photograph while they bond with their ninth grade friends during lunch. The Academy students traveled McAuliffe Heights on Monday Oct. 15, and the trip was said to be very successful. Photo by Jewel Weyandt

 

A wave of excitement rumbles through the air of AAJHS Freshmen Academy students was they prepare for the Secretary of Education to arrive.  Ninth grade honors students Lindsay Hallinan and Camerson Lynch create origami cranes as a 'bridge project' to show the state.  The visit on Oct. 30 was said to have gone smoothly, and the secretary said she was very impressed.
A wave of excitement rumbles through the air of AAJHS Freshmen Academy students was they prepare for the Secretary of Education to arrive. Ninth grade honors students Lindsay Hallinan and Camerson Lynch create origami cranes as a ‘bridge project’ to show the state. The visit on Oct. 30 was said to have gone smoothly, and the secretary said she was very impressed. Photo by Jewel Weyandt

 

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