Two new choice schools putting innovation into practice

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Imagine starting a completely new kind of school where the experiences will be unprecedented for both students and teachers. Even after only one week, the two new Dallas ISD Choice Schools—the Innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship Academy at James W. Fannin and the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) Middle School at D.A. Hulcy—are making it work.

Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Academy at James W. Fannin

It’s the first Friday morning of the school year at the Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Academy at James W. Fannin, and the ninth-graders are quietly moving from one class to the next. Instead of a bell ringing to tell students that class is starting, cell-phone alerts rise in a chorus of chirps and beeps to get them moving.

The teaching methods at the school call for personalizing information and content and making sure each student receives individual attention. This instructional model is a one-size-fits-one approach, supporting student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn.

“My hope for this first year is that the students are engaged in instruction that is just right for them,” said Principal Sarah Ritsema.

World Geography teacher Chazz Robinson welcomes the new style of teaching and the heavy use of technology.

“If we want to get the outcomes we want, it requires a bit more from the teacher, more thought,” Robinson said. “I’m really excited. Our school is so diverse, with all different socioeconomic levels coming together to learn. It’s tremendous.”

He said the technology isn’t an end but a means to help lessons in his class come to life.

“The technology can help them reimagine the world,” Robinson said. “Hopefully the kids will walk out with a powerful vision of what they want the world to be like.”

Ultimately, students will create a business plan for a product or business they design. They will learn how the business world works through studying marketing, market research, sales and finance. Students will present their plans to volunteers standing in as “investors,” who will score students on how well they meet the requirements.

The business plan has to be for something reasonable. Amy Jones, who teaches Principles of Business, Marketing & Finance, cited a previous student who wanted to create and sell a cloning machine.

“We take that idea, but repurpose it to something that they can build up to,” she said.

STEAM Middle School at D.A. Hulcy

A typical school day at STEAM Middle School at D.A. Hulcy begins with the inaugural class of sixth-graders gathering in the lyceum for their version of the morning routine. The school day kicks off with character-building activities, then designated students hone their public speaking skills by presenting school announcements and pledges in front of staff members and peers, wrapping up with group self-affirmations.

Students from all over the district attend STEAM Middle School. Because of the geographic diversity, Principal Jonica Lockwood said, “We are committed to meeting the needs of all of our students, near and far. STEAM is the common factor in a hopeful community and working together is crucial.”

While the concept of STEM covers the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, STEAM adds the Arts component.  Project Lead the Way guides the STEM curriculum, focusing on preparing students for future success in STEM related careers. The inclusion of the Arts provides students with unique opportunities to learn about the why and how of product inventions and creations.

For example, engineering instructor Kevin Thomas organized a project tasking students to create emblems showcasing their personal brand. By identifying characteristics through a self-assessment exercise, researching symbols to represent each characteristic, and visually designing the emblem within certain dimensions and guidelines, students constructed unique emblems representing their perception of themselves. The school also offers an elective wheel which allows students to experience various STEM-related and arts courses throughout the year, such as Robotics, Technology Apps, and Art, before deciding which area to focus on for their 7th and 8th grade years.

Lockwood admits there have been a few growing pains as the concept for the school is new, but she points to a bulletin board in the cafeteria where students express what they like about their new school. They feel supported and pleased with how much their classes have to offer. Parents, teachers, staff, and students agree that it’s well worth the effort to create a future of world-changers.

Dallas ISD is striving to add at least 35 new choice schools by 2020. The student application window for the 2016-2017 school year launches in January; more information will be made available in the upcoming months. Learn more about public school choice here.

Listen to a recent podcast as Mike Koprowski, chief of Transformation and Innovation, and Mohammed Choudhury, director of Transformation and Innovation, as they talk about public school choice with Dr. Robert Bravo.

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