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Students benefit their school, community with passion projects

  • Teacher Brian Lamore, left, holds a ladder for Madison McCassie as she pieces together the framework for a shelter being built for the softball field’s irrigation controls as part of the Alternative Learning Opportunities program at Turners Falls High School on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls High School student Aly Murphy showcases birdhouses that she and other students built as part of the Alternative Learning Opportunities program, on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls High School student Karissa Olson, 15, puts on the finishing touches while painting a sign as part of the Alternative Learning Opportunities program, on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls High School students Simon Lorenzo, left, and Chase Blair, add a glass plate to a 3-D printer being used as part of the Alternative Learning Opportunities program, on Thursday, June 14, 2018. Recorder Staff/Dan Little



Recorder Staff
Thursday, June 14, 2018

TURNERS FALLS — A new program aims to help Turners Falls High School students help others through projects relating to their hobbies.

These projects are called Alternative Learning Opportunities or ALOs, and include building a shelter for the softball field’s irrigation controls, setting up and aligning a large-volume 3D printer, reading to elementary school children, making spill-proof ceramic bowls for shelter cats and building bluebird houses.

Overall, the goal is to have educators and students collaborate on relevant projects that benefit the school or the community as a whole, said Science and Technology Teacher Brian Lamore.

To begin the project, staff and students were surveyed on their talents and interests. Then, five categories based on the survey results were selected: service to others, technology and engineering, artistic expression, animal welfare and culinary arts. Staff members who elected to participate in projects got to choose which group they wanted to lead, and students chose which group they wanted to participate in.

Now, the “doing” phase is afoot; it began June 11 and continued over the week.

About 15 students and seven faculty are participating in projects this year, but Lamore hopes for more participation next year. He says initial interest was greater, but it was difficult to get students and faculty to commit when they were busy with classes and studying for finals.

“We knew we had to dive in to this project and it make it happen,” he said. “We also knew we would learn how to better integrate ALOs next year.”

Lamore said the final goal of the projects is to glean some lessons learned so the program can be expanded and improved in the future.

The projects are part of the Powertown in the 21st Century Project, the goal of which, Turners Falls High School Principal Annie Leonard explained, is to connect what students learn within the school “to the world outside school.”

Each New England state has some form of competency-based education that gives students opportunities to demonstrate skills and knowledge. The state recently established an initiative: “High Quality College and Career Readiness Pathways,” which puts Turners Falls’ Powertown project at the cutting edge of this statewide initiative.

The Powertown initiative is funded by an 18-month $200,000 grant from the Barr Foundation, a Boston nonprofit that tries to help students achieve success in high school and beyond. The program involves a design team and school council that meets monthly to conduct research on new models of education and ensures that graduation is based on demonstrations of knowledge and competency, rather than just a score on a test.

“I’m really impressed by the cool things the ALO groups are working on this week, and by the way students and staff stepped out of their comfort zones to try something new,” Leonard said. “There is no doubt that everyone is strengthening their problem-solving and collaboration skills, and that the results will be beneficial to the community, and that what we learn will help guide the larger transformation of the way we do high school in Turners.”

Reach Christie Wisniewski at:

cwisniewski@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 280