This fall, Davis-Thomas Elementary Middle School will begin integrating a new educational model that will incorporate each subject of study into an overall theme of environmental sustainability.
Tucker County Superintendent of Schools Eddie Campbell said the idea is to move past the traditional classroom model of education and find ways to open up new possibilities.
"We want to put our energy into the concept of sustainability and environmental responsibility because we think it will foster a good connection for the kids. When they can make a connection to what they are studying, they are going to learn it better. We want to find a way to connect learning to what the kids are doing in the community. That is where we are coming from," Campbell said.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Joe Hoover
Jennifer Newland, executive director of the Canaan Valley Institute, explains the benefits of the new partnership between CVI and the Tucker County Board of Education to board members at a recent meeting.
The new model is grounded in integrated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, but Campbell said Davis Thomas will be including subjects from the humanities and arts into its study of environmental sustainability.
"If we are studying a particular topic that has to do with trout habitat, we are going to be looking at the history involved in that. Reading and writing components will also be involved. We are going to bring all of those curricular areas together around the theme of sustainability."
The school will also be collaborating with the Canaan Valley Institute and the National Youth Science Foundation in order to diversify the educational opportunities available to its students.
Jennifer Newland, CVI's executive director, said CVI is interested in assisting Davis-Thomas's efforts to make their curriculum more science based in any way they can.
"We have considerable experience with developing science-based curriculums in other schools," she said. "Since CVI was founded, education has been one of our fundamental activities and we are dedicated to working with Tucker County schools on science and environmental education."
Much of Campbell's inspiration for Davis Thomas' new model, it seems, came from a visit to Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Md., a school in which CVI previously helped develop a similar educational model.
Vicki Fenwick-Judy, CIV's education coordinator, explained that Crellin's students study a specific topic from the perspective of different school subjects.
Most recently, they studied energy and this involved projects such as the creation of a Leggo waterwheel which incorporated mathematics and engineering.
Since Crellin's transition to this model of education, Fenwick-Judy said its students have truly blossomed.
In 2010, Crellin was recognized for having the highest standardized test scores in Maryland. They also have recently received the Intel School of Distinction for Elementary Mathematics, a national award that included $10,000 and equipment and services worth $100,000.
Fenwick-Judy said, "The school consistently produces fantastic critical and creative thinkers."
Campbell said he was immensely impressed by his visit to Crellin.
"I saw kids that were engaged and thrilled about being in school. You can feel it when you walk into the school. You can hear it in the students' and teachers' voices. They are really excited about what they are learning. It is an awesome educational environment."
Based on the strength of his impression, Campbell approached Davis-Thomas' staff about developing a similar program.
"They are thrilled about it," he said. "For them, it will be a chance to get back into creative ways of teaching - it is a real lift for them."
Daryla Rapp, Davis Thomas' principal, agreed that the school's staff is excited at the prospect of the new model.
"When Dr. Campbell presented the opportunity to our staff, they were all very excited. We think this will be a great opportunity."