By Luke Smucker
Posted Aug 25, 2018 at 9:45 AM
A group of 40 to 50 freshmen at Prairie Central High School are taking part in the school’s new Freshman Cohort program this year. The core subjects of math, science, English and social studies are split between six teachers into two classrooms in an effort to offer students a STEAM-based teaching approach.
“In the past, those four classes would have taken up a freshman’s entire school year, but what we are finding, is that our freshmen were not getting into the electives, the actual programming that gets them excited about being in school and thinking about what they are going to do in the future,” Tonya Dieken, district director of curriculum for Prairie Central, said.
“So, a group of us met around the middle of last year to design a program that we thought could move forward successfully. It was great, several staff members jumped right in. So, we started with meetings once a week on Fridays to plan the program.”
Essentially, the group of freshmen have their core subjects split into two classrooms. In one room, the students will meet for 90 minutes with a math teacher, science teacher and a support teacher. The other classroom combines English with social studies and another support teacher.
“At the high school level, our teachers haven’t done as much co-teaching as other teachers have within the district,” Dieken said. “So it has been a learning curve for the staff involved. As they have developed the new program, they also received different professional development opportunities to help move the program forward.”
Because the math and English curriculums don’t offer much room for change, the social studies and science curriculums are being realigned for the purpose of finding commonalities.
“We basically looked at two classes where we thought the kids could use the most support, the entry-level math and English courses, put our team teachers in place and built on it from there,” Dieken said.
“It’s great because our teachers’ big focus is on relationships with the students and figuring out how to get those relationships to help the students be more successful. We have a very low drop-out rate here at Prairie Central and we are very blessed for that. But, one or two always slip through and we want to make sure that we are trying to catch them and help them maintain an interest in school while finishing what they started in their following years.”
In addition to encouraging the students, this group of teachers is also encouraging each other. Dieken said the teachers are getting together for 30 minutes each day to talk about what went on in class the day before and what their plans are for the future.
On Fridays, administrators get together with the teaching team to talk about how the project is going and what other support is needed.
“I used to be a high school teacher, so I know it can be isolating,” Dieken said. “You get in deep with your content and you don’t always have that time to collaborate with other teachers. So, I think it’s great that we are starting with just a small group of our incoming freshmen and a group of 13 teachers and administrators.
“Hopefully, we can continue to work together and create a really strong freshman learning program.”
Jeana Forsyth, the program’s science teacher, has been teaching at the school for 18 years. She says the biggest difference between her regular curriculum and what she is teaching through the Cohort program is the inclusion of math.
“We’re integrating more math into the science classes to give them more of a STEAM approach,” Forsyth said. “I completed some math training over the summer to help me prepare for this. We are trying to get the students engaged and also show them how math overlaps with science and vice versa. My goal is to help our students find a love for both subjects.”
Forsyth doesn’t mind teaching a class with other teachers, in fact, she said the program is helping her to learn new strategies to improve her teaching.
“We’re still getting into the swing of collaboration with the kids, but I think as the program continues the students are really going to see the value in what we’re doing,” Forsyth said. “I’m hoping that we could see this program be a part of every freshmen’s experience at Prairie Central for the next school year, if at all possible.”