Imagine the chaos of a city in the midst of a serious water crisis. Imagine that city is right here in Gwinnett County. A very serious water crisis is the exact scenario of the first Project Based Learning opportunity presented by Central Gwinnett administrators and Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson to the students who are enrolled in Central Gwinnett’s Five Academies.
When Principal Maryanne Grimes was offered the option of hosting an academy based learning model at Central Gwinnett, she went right to work researching and polling her staff to make certain that the model would work at Central. “The research indicated this would have a positive effect on student engagement,” says Grimes. “We expect grades and attendance to respond well to this model and have moved forward to engage our students and their community for the best outcomes possible.” The community has responded well with a great deal of support.
Project Based Learning will blend the curriculum with methods used by the working world to teach students how to better solve problems and move forward in work situations. In a combined statement, Academy of Medical and Healthcare Sciences Associate Principal, Shane Orr, and Academy Leader, Ashley Rutledge said, “In addition to making the learning more relevant to what our students are interested in, our students can't wait to collaborate and problem solve with their peers." Echoing those thoughts is Business and Entrepreneurship Academy Lead Teacher, William Artis who adds, “Through the application of 21st century skills, our students will become more productive citizens and our next generation business leaders, entrepreneurs and executives that will hopefully invest back in our local community.”
Adding to the multidisciplinary aspect of PBL education are the field trips which enhance the experiences of the students at Central. One such experience landed a group of Central’s Law Education and Public Service Academy students in Judge Harris’ Recorders Court. “The experience was phenomenal, it surpassed anything we could have provided in the classroom,” says Greg Jackson, Lead Teacher. “You would have thought that it had been a scripted show, but it was such an organic experience between all of the people in the courtroom.” Those people included many who were there to answer for a crime. The defendants took a real interest in the students and shared the experiences that had landed them in the courtroom to begin with. “We would like to afford this type of opportunity to students as often as possible,” says Jackson. “Without the community, we could not develop these scenarios,” adds Assistant Principal Sheila Sudderth.
And should a scenario such as a full-blown water crisis present itself in the future, the students at Central Gwinnett’s Academies will be prepared to go to work with an interdisciplinary team to manage and solve the problems as they arise from all aspects. Speaking to the general theme of the program, the STEM Academy Lead Teacher Danielle Shea and Assistant Principal, Travis Chapman say that all areas will provide students with an opportunity to collaborate, innovate, discover and create. “Our focus is for all students to develop 21st century skills through project based learning, and solving real world problems."
The results have yet to be formally calculated in data sets, but from talking to her students, Principal Grimes has discovered that they are surprised to find school is actually more fun and engaging. “Our strongest data will be from this 10th grade class onward,” says Grimes. “That is to say, we should be able to measure the full impact of the Academies beginning with the graduating class of 2017. It's a process,” she adds. “I am confident that we will show growth and improvement with the changes we have made.” In the meantime, with a vested interest from the community to the school and back again, Central Gwinnett and the Lawrenceville community continue a long tradition of being tightly-knit and forward thinking.
For more information on the Academies programs with Gwinnett County Public Schools, see www.gwinnett.k12.ga.us. For more of the interviews with the Central Gwinnett Academy staff see the video on our website at www.gwinnettcitizen.com.