Brooke Ewing and Jessi Mooney have found a new ally in helping to navigate through a learning process which sometimes might be a little too dry for their liking.
The two seventh-graders at Midland Trail High/Middle School in Hico are among the student leadership team members who represented the school in Morgantown last week to participate in the announcement of the Middle School Empowerment Collaborative, which is geared to grades 6-8.
Midland Trail and Calhoun County are the two pilot middle schools for the program, it was revealed by the West Virginia Department of Education and several partners during a celebration of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. On that day, officials unveiled the new middle school initiative during its CTE Winter Conference at the Marriott at Waterfront Place in Morgantown. According to a press release from the WVDE, the Middle School Empowerment Collaborative expands exploration and instructional and entrepreneurial opportunities for students at a younger age. The program is one of three WVDE efforts to make CTE principles and practices available to middle schools across the state.
With February being CTE Month, it is an important time to recognize the important role community and technical education programs play in preparing students for college and career success, WVDE officials stress.
The empowerment collaborative is a partnership between the Mountain State Education Cooperative, Edventure Group and the Southern Regional Education Board, WVDE officials point out. It is a school-wide program that not only focuses on teaching content through strong instructional practices, but it also provides career exploration for students through community-based, student-driven projects.
Midland Trail and Calhoun County will utilize a set of nine instructional protocols to direct their planning and, with guidance from the WVDE and its partners, they will redesign their learning environments. The goal is to empower students to experience a range of careers and problem-solving opportunities that “strengthen their entrepreneurial mindset and increase their interest and engagement in the learning process,” according to the WVDE.
“We have been committed to increasing student learning at the WVDE, and opening access to CTE at the middle school level is an important part of this mission,” State Superintendent David L. Roach said in the release. “Our state’s CTE program is nationally- and internationally-recognized for the Simulated Workplace initiative and for producing students with impressive workforce and industry-recognized credentials.
“So, why would we not want to allow middle school families and students to experience these authentic and highly engaging learning environments?”
Sixth-grade teacher Kennedy Moore, one of the adult leadership members from Midland Trail, said among the goals is “to implement a workplace environment in the middle school.” That, she said, will be similar to what is ongoing at the high school level in the Fayette Institute of Technology setting “so we want to integrate some of those skills into our middle school classrooms.”
The second part of the equation is authentic learning and assessment, which will include “really tapping into your local communities and forming community partners and making those real-world connections for students.”
“And the third asset of it is entrepreneurial mindset, so really getting these students mindful that they can do things, that they are capable of these skill sets and being productive members of society,” Moore said.
“As a whole, we really want them to be empowered in their learning because that’s where those three things tie together,” she added. “So they feel they have a say in their learning and they’re really empowered through that whole process.”
Referencing the Simulated Workplace and authentic learning ongoing at Oak Hill-based FIT and elsewhere, Midland Trail principal Richard Petitt said, “What they’re doing is real world stuff.”
“A lot of our model is what we’re developing, because there is no cookie-cutter to this,” Petitt added. “What we’re trying to develop is really what they do at FIT (and other similar CTE centers).”
The empowerment initiative should alter the course of at least some of the teaching methodology at the school, said Petitt. “Currently, traditional education is taught in silos (silos in education is a simple structure that keeps things compartmentalized, organized and safe), so you have (various classes dedicated to English, math, science, etc.) and we’re trying to take away all that and not look at it from a silos perspective; instead, look at it as we’re going to present a problem, and we’re going to (morph) into students solving that authentic problem, like you would face in real life.”
“We’re experimenting with this even pre-pilot with our sixth-grade right now,” Moore said. “What we did was we looked at our local area, and we determined that the national park (New River Gorge National Park and Preserve) is receiving a lot of tourism, but yet our local area (Ansted/Hico) is not really seeing those effects.”
Moore said sixth-graders were sent on a scavenger hunt throughout Fayette County. “We’re calling it ‘North of the New,’ and focusing on what all is here and how can we promote that to bring that tourism.
“That’s where that authentic learning comes in. They’re going to create a pitch of some type of marketing campaign or product to local community members and get feedback. We’re hoping to produce either products or a pitch (possibly including something Bridge-Day related). That’s just one small example of something that may come out of this.”
Looking ahead, Petitt said in working through next school year’s master schedule, he wants to provide teachers more opportunities to collaborate. “I’m excited, because I believe it’s an opportunity for kids to buy into school, to buy into the idea of receiving an education because it will be something they see applied in their everyday life, rather than somebody’s making me sit in here, somebody’s making me come to school. The idea of them being able to come to school and take an ownership of their own learning, I think, is going to be pretty impactful.”
From a teacher’s standpoint, the program can help “bring back that joy of teaching,” Moore said. “Through the empowerment of the students, I believe we’re going to see a lot more growth.
“Empowerment is going to be all around, because the students and the teachers, I think, are going to learn through this process together.”
So far, “These students are starting to gain that appreciation for what’s right here around them, and I hope that happens with the community connections, as well.” She said it can help give them a better handle on choosing a career path.
Although pilot schools are early in the implementation process, administrators, instructors and students are making strides in identifying the community projects and challenges that will serve as framework for their programs.
“Our students are excited to be the first to build our Empowerment program at Calhoun County Middle,” said Calhoun County Superintendent Kelli Whytsell. “It gives them true ownership of their learning which is something they may not have experienced in the past. Most importantly, they can apply their learning to these projects as they explore and solve real-world scenarios. That is powerful.”
In addition to the MSEC, the WVDE has also implemented two other middle school CTE programs, according to officials. The Discover Your Future program is a middle school course designed to introduce students to future career opportunities across 16 career clusters, and Project Lead the Way Gateway allows students to build knowledge and skills in the computer science, engineering and biomedical science pathways.
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