The traditional public education system is sometimes like a train that keeps chugging down the tracks, even when some students fall off mid-journey, Steamboat Springs High School teacher Chad Bowdre said.
Stopping the education train and picking up the kids who lost their way is the mission behind a new program the high school plans to implement this fall.
The Students Engaged in Active Learning, or SEAL, program has been in the development stage for the past year by a group of teachers and administrators looking to provide opportunities for students who have histories of not being successful in the school's traditional format.
"Most young people want to learn, but some aren't finding success," said Bowdre, a math and science teacher at the school and a member of the SEAL team. "Unfortunately, kids do get lost and shuffled through."
Students accepted into the SEAL program will study the four core subject areas -- math, history, English and science -- with Bowdre and fellow teacher Lucianne Myhre. Bowdre and Myhre will work together in the classroom to provide a more individualized learning atmosphere for SEAL students.
The emphasis will be on experiential learning, large projects and in-class presentations.
An example of how the program will work, Bowdre said, is a lesson about the car-buying process. Instead of simply reading about the purchasing process in a book, SEAL students would visit car dealerships and bank loan officers to get a more meaningful and realistic insight into a process many students eventually will experience.
"They're doing the same work, just in a different way," counselor Valerie McCarthy said.
But in no way will SEAL be less demanding on students or an "easy way out," the teachers and Principal Dave Schmid said.
"It's going to be rigorous; it's going to be hard," Myhre said. "It will be the same rigorous curriculum. There will be kids who won't make it in this program."
Classroom instruction will be tailored to the needs of individual students, McCarthy said.
"This is an opportunity for them to get their four core classes in a way that's hands-on, small and (involves) a lot of one-on-one instruction," she said.
In addition to academic areas, SEAL will focus on social and emotional skills, the teachers said. SEAL will promote self-esteem, self-awareness, community awareness and social responsibility. Communication between SEAL students and staff will be an important aspect of the program.
"We will be involved in their lives," Bowdre said. "They'll know where they stand the whole time."
SEAL also may include a recovery program that allows students to make up credits -- on their own time -- in classes they previously failed. SEAL also may allow students to earn credits at a faster rate.
But these and other aspects of the SEAL program, such as grading, are being determined.
The SEAL staff, consisting of Bowdre, Myhre, McCarthy and Schmid, envisions the program beginning with 20 students. SEAL is open to juniors and seniors, and, on a case-by-case basis, sophomores. Interested students must apply to be part of SEAL and conduct an informal interview with the program's staff. New students will be accepted into the program at the beginning of each semester.
Providing a more individualized educational program has been an emerging need of the school, Schmid said.
"Within your regular school you have to help all kids," he said. "I think there has become recently more of a need for a personalized program. We want to do everything we can to help every kid be successful at our high school."
In no way will the program serve as a dumping ground for struggling students, Schmid said, nor will it curtail the entire staff's effort to meet the needs of all students through its traditional program.
A letter detailing SEAL was sent to the homes of all high school students. Applications will be accepted until Aug. 18, and interviews are scheduled for Aug. 20. Students and parents are encouraged to contact Bowdre, Myhre, McCarthy or Schmid with any questions about the program.
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