No more pencils,Well, two out of three isn't bad! Incoming sixth graders at St. Catherine's will face an unfamiliar landscape, as the 145-year old school -- which began as a girls academy in 1864 -- embraces cyberspace with a new "wireless" middle school next September. The program will provide all students with their own netbooks -- a smaller version of a laptop computer -- and the kids will work interactively online with eBooks.
No more books,
No more teacher's dirty looks!
"No more heavy textbooks to lug around," says the program's founding teacher, Elisabeth Blandford, who taught for 37 years before "retiring" from Unified to create this middle school program for St. Cat's. The program allows St. Cat's to "go green and save money and trees as we cut back on paper use."
More importantly, "students will be learning in a different way -- with an interdisciplinary format."
Blandford said the middle school will start with 25 students in sixth grade, and will add a grade each subsequent year as the students progress (offering sixth and seventh next year, and sixth, seventh and eighth the year after) ... unless there are enough students for a seventh grade class in September as well. "We're almost there already for the sixth grade," Blandford said Tuesday night.
Blandford, who is developing the program, will be its first -- and only -- teacher this first year, teaching all the core classes: English, science, math and history. "The following year, with a second grade, we'll be team teaching," she said. The netbooks -- their smaller keyboard is perfect for smaller hands -- and wireless access to eBooks are not the program's only new wrinkle. Interdisciplinary teaching, with coordinated lessons, is another.
She explained it this way: In geography class, the students might be studying Pakistan and Afghanistan. In English, they would be reading Three Cups of Tea, about mountain climber Greg Mortenson's efforts to start schools in rural Pakistan. Math would be pulled in with doing statistics, or whatever they're studying in math, on demographics and population. The same with science: the children will develop projects, individually or in small groups. "The idea is to be able to apply their knowledge in the next unit."
"The first thing the students will be exposed to is critical thinking skills and creative thinking skills, and using those in all the projects they do." Blandford said this this approach was developed by Jefferson Lighthouse in 1972. She taught Lighthouse at McKinley Middle School for 12 years, then went to Mitchell. "I was so disappointed when the Lighthouse program took hit after hit. Thirty years ago, when it was developed, it was 30 years ahead of its time."
"By seeing how concepts and skills are used differently or in the same way across the curriculum, students understand the concepts and skills better, remember them longer, and apply them appropriately to new learning situations. They are ready to apply those concepts and skills in the real world. Research shows us that this method of teaching is superior," said Blandford.
"I expect there will be some sixth graders doing seventh grade math. The idea is to meet every kid where they are and help them succeed, and facilitate the pace they are comfortable with."
A master teacher, Blandford has a Master's Degree from Carthage College, and was the Phi Delta Kappa 2007 Outstanding Educator of the Year in Southeastern Wisconsin. She retired from Unified to take this job, and says: "This is the biggest, most exciting opportunity of my career. I've never been more excited.
"I've been a 'public school lady' all along, and I think the public schools in Racine are doing a great job, considering all the problems they have to deal with, like educational requirements not funded by the state. I've had many absolutely fabulous colleagues. Now I'm doing something different.
"I keep walking down the halls saying -- you remember the line from Field of Dreams? -- 'Is this Heaven? No, it's Iowa.' Well for me, the answer is, 'No, it's St. Cat's.' "
St. Cat's said its new wireless program will prepare middle school students for twenty-first century problem solving, putting students on a fast track and enabling them to begin taking high school credit classes as seventh and eighth grade students.
"Successful learning starts with willing students, supportive parents and outstanding teachers. Elisabeth Blandford will be the cornerstone of our staff as we assemble a first-rate faculty over the next few years. It will take some time, but I am confident that our mission, curriculum, technology and teachers will place our new 6-12 program among the very best schools,” said Christopher Olley, St. Catherine’s High School president.
For more information on becoming a student contact Sean Brady, St. Cat's admissions director, by email or phone at 632-2785 ext. 429. Students must sign up by Jan. 15 for classes which start next September. Tuition is $4,500 a year, with $1,500 financial aid available. Tech/book fee is $400.