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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Project-based learning courses proposed for EV In-Tech would be voluntary program for ninth-graders next year

Math teacher Kurt Krauth and special education teacher Justin Becker listen to Nicole Talbert during a skit to introduce eighth-graders to a project-based learning program proposed for ninth-graders next school year. (Lisa Leinberger)

In the East Valley School District, a group of teachers has been planning a different way of learning for some of next year’s ninth-graders.

Project-based learning focuses around an issue, and students explore the issue in many different subjects – English, science, history and more. Nicole Talbert, a credit recovery teacher and drama teacher, said students may focus on several different topics during the school year, such as the environment and social health, water, or the concept of “I, you and we.”

“(We’ll) teach traditional courses in a hands-on, project-centered way,” Talbert said. State standards would be integrated into the project and electives would revolve around interests.

Still in the planning stages, the program, called “InTech,” would be an arm of East Valley High School, and discussions are underway to use the Walker Center on Sullivan Road. Talbert said there would be 125 to 150 slots available in the program, and students would need to apply. If more apply than there are slots available, students would be selected by lottery.

Darsi Bankey, who teaches in the district’s teen parent program, said InTech would include a connection piece that fosters a relationship between the student with other students, teachers, parents and the community.

The group of teachers, Bankey, Talbert, Kurt Krauth (math and social studies), Stephanie Etter (French and online credit recovery), Justin Becker (special education), and Amy Tellinghusen (work-based learning), have been collaborating since September on the program.

Krauth said they were asked last year if they were interested in doing school in a different way. Talbert said they were put in a room together and started talking.

The group said they aren’t hoping to appeal to any certain group of students. They wanted to focus on the grade level, rather than the ability level.

“It’s for all types of personalities,” she said.

In fact, the group was discussing a skit they are planning to present Monday to the 245 eighth-graders at the Enrichment Center. They want to show the many different kinds of students for whom the program may work, whether an introvert, a person who really hasn’t shown much interest in different activities, an athlete, a skater or an academic.

“It can be any student,” Bankey said.

The group discussed the program with the school board on Tuesday during a work session. While the session was informational for the board – they did not vote – the teachers are moving forward with the hope the board will support the plan.

“We want the community to support this,” Becker said.

At the school board level, board chairman Mike Novakovich said they called the work session because they wanted to learn about the program.

“I like the concept of being able to tailor a project around a concept,” he said. He added that the board’s main concern in the coming months will be in the day-to-day budgeting of the program –will the district need to change busing, bring in food for meals and furniture, and whether the district can fund it.

He said he really appreciates that the program would be voluntary.

“The parents can say ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’ ” he said, which would let the district know almost immediately whether parents will support the idea.

“You need the public support,” he said.

Board member Mike Harris said he likes the idea of project-based learning and said he knows it has worked in a number of places. He just isn’t sure if he is ready to make a decision about it just yet.

“We’re still discussing it,” he said. He still has questions about the cost of the program and how success will be measured.

He also wonders whether now is the best time to start a new program, after the recent election of new board members and with the district’s K-8 model on the agenda for next meeting on Tuesday.

“I’m not against it,” Harris said. “I’m concerned about the timing.”