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A radical transformation of Manson schools has begun

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MANSON — There's a fascinating educational transformation beginning in the Manson School District that is engaging students in ways far more relevant and meaningful than the standard approach to teaching.

I had the privilege to spend a day last week touring Manson High School classes, talking to teachers, students and administrators about a learning approach that is intended to better meet the needs of students for the 21st Century. The school was in the middle of a two-week test of project-based learning and you could see clear indications that they are tapping into some powerful ways to create the school of the future. 

Manson High School was already a high-performing school based on traditional measurements, but Suprintendent Matt Charlton, the board and staff see that much more needs to be done to provide students with the skills they need to thrive in the world. 

Next year, the transformation of Manson High School will be well underway and the environment is going to be radically different. There will be significant project-based learning, opportunities for internships for students during all four years of school and more college level courses, to name just a few of the significant changes.

Those internships are important inhelping students connect to the real world and also to draw connections between what they're learning in school and jobs in the community, Charlton said.

The intent is to create a college-like atmosphere that focuses on  students taking more responsibility for their education. Another significant innovation is that there will be more cross-curricular classes. Biology teacher Erik Helleson and language arts teacher Jennifer Koth told us they working together in a way that has challenged and energized them. They're learning how to work effectively together and engage the students.

The curriculum they're delivering is more challenging and demanding, which led to some initial resistance from high-performing students who were used to easy A's in traditional courses. They've found that students are rising to the challenge. 

Teachers are discovering that the work is a lot more fulfilling when students are taking ownership of their education. 

Students will have the opportunity to take a number of cross-curricular classes when school opens next fall. They'll also be working in a completely different schedule — a trimester system with have fewer, longer classes to provide better learning opportunities. 

Small but significant changes will also happen. Gone will be the bells signaling time to change classes. 

This effort is all about changing the way the school functions to better meet the needs of students — creating an environment that is challenging, stimulating and creative. Manson High will be a place, we were told, where rather than losing students to the Running Start program at Wenatchee Valley College, those students will be more apt to stay and take advantage of the more challenging college coursework being developed.

Charlton describes this entire effort with the concept of a backpack. They want students to leave school with the skills, capabilities and experience to thrive in the future. This approach has gotten tremendous support from the community, Charlton said.

During our visit, we saw students working in teams on projects. In the vocational area, students were designing putt-putt golf holes for Wapato Point. The students designed holes and made a model, using math skills. One of those holes will be used at the course. 

Now that's practical learning. 

North Central Washington is home to a growing number of innovative educational initiatives. I take my hat off to the leadership, staff and board of Manson School District for their courage to dare greatly with their Manson Learns initiative. 

This is a place where great things are happening.