Many of us have heard complaints about this newest generation. Some of those complaints have been with us a few generations by now. “They just want to play video games or they are always on Snapchat.” Other times it is “Nobody fixes anything with their hands anymore,” or “You try to give somebody a job, but they aren’t used to showing up on time, and working hard, and thinking through problems.”

Sometimes the criticism is pointed at the schools: “Why don’t schools teach students real life skills like filling out a checkbook or sewing on a button?”

Look out, world! These kids fill out checkbooks, sew on buttons, design marketing strategies, and program robots. They plan service learning projects, make professional phone calls, and create resumes. Shoot, I saw 7 year olds building bar graphs with a spreadsheet program! Below I have included a slideshow of our jr. high students creating ornaments that they plan to sell at basketball games. Hopefully you can tell from the pictures, but these kids liked doing the work. Nobody was complaining. They weren’t fussing and fighting. Nobody said, “Is this for a grade? (It wasn’t for a grade.) They were doing a nice job because they had pride in their work. We used to talk about kids wrapped in bubble wrap – “Kids can’t use scissors. They might cut themselves.” “Can’t use a hot glue gun. You might burn yourself.” Not anymore. Now we teach them to use these tools safely.

At the elementary level, we are incorporating these skills through our STEM initiative. We will eventually pursue STEM certification at the jr.-sr. high side as well, but right now we are mostly using these approaches in three ways: CTE classes, the new MakerSpace, and Pathways class.

CTE (Career and Technical Education) classes include those in Agriculture, Technology, Business, and Family and Consumer Sciences. Students are encouraged to explore CTE classes and choose one to take advanced classes in.

Our MakerSpace is a room set up to make things in. We then stock the room with the tools and supplies students could need while building prototypes, models, or solutions to problems. If your teacher tasks you with designing the best egg carton to transport eggs in without them breaking (this is a task our 2nd graders are doing,) operating in the MakerSpace allows you to maybe try to build it out of aluminum foil, and then try cardboard, and then try pipecleaners, and then try bubble wrap, etc. The terms STEM Lab and MakerSpace can be different, or they can be used interchangeably. We don’t have shop class anymore, which makes me a little sad. But we didn’t throw out the chop saw. The chop saw (along with many other tools) is in the MakerSpace because sometimes you gotta cut something, not in shop class, but in Physics or Math class. We also have hot glue guns, paint, vices, drills, solder kits, electrical testers and a million other things. You never know what tool you might need when we do these open-ended, real-world related lessons.

Pathways class is a time we’ve set aside to do some things that might not fit into other classes including; students checking their own grades, social emotional lessons, remediation, and service-learning projects. The name comes from the state’s changes in graduation – the following quote is from the Department of Education:

With the passage of Graduation Pathways, students are now able to individualize their graduation requirements to align to their postsecondary goal. No longer must all students fit into the same academic mold, but rather, they can choose the options that best meet their postsecondary needs and aspirations. Students can create pathways that serve their educational interests and prepares them for postsecondary educational and career opportunities.

Pathways classes run multiple service learning projects including:

  • food rescue (food that was bought by students but unopened from breakfast and lunch is collected and donated to the food bank instead of thrown away.)
  • Eel Essentials (like a food bank, but for toiletries and personal hygene products)
  • Supply drive for Humane Society
  • Collecting pop tables and bottle lids for good causes
  • support for the recycling center ribbon cutting

and more. These students do the research, contact officials, plan their efforts, do the work, and see the efforts to their final destinations. They develop passion and ownership of these causes and ideas. We encourage the teachers to leave the work to the kids. We imagine that some day one of these students will be a young adult, sitting in an interview, and when asked a question about if he or she can work independently, he or she can say: “Yes. I’ve been understanding problems, doing research, building coalitions, planning efforts, managing peers, and completing solutions since my days as a student at Eminence. I’m happy to bring that same level of commitment and initiative to this position!”

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