School District Recognized as Innovative

– School officials have known for a while now that their technology and innovation offerings are among the area’s leading programs. What they didn’t realize until recently is that the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District is drawing interest from throughout the state as a project-based learning pioneer.

In its latest technological triumph, the district will soon unveil a brand new innovation lab inside the former woodshop at David Prouty High School. Beginning in September, the 2,000 square foot lab will facilitate a first-year earth and space science course in which Prouty students will collaborate with students abroad as part of an experiential learning model led by STEM expert Larisa Schelkin.

Rather than fill up notebooks for an hour with information conveyed by a teacher, the goal of the innovation lab model is to get kids engaged through teamwork and active learning. Students at both Prouty and their international partner school will be given a single problem at the start of the course, and they will work together to develop ideas for a solution.

“This will be entirely project-based learning. The students will not rely on textbooks for this class,” said SEBRSD Superintendent Tracy Crowe, who has turned the district into a technological leader. “There is no better way to get students engaged than giving them a problem and letting them go through the steps to find the solution. Students will be empowered by their experiences, and these are the skills that companies will seek in the future.”

It wasn’t until Crowe attended a global STEM education conference at Harvard Graduate School as a lecturer last month that she learned just how well-known the SEBRSD’s technological transformation has become. In her discussions with other lecturers, it was apparent that Spencer-East Brookfield has drawn the notice of public educators statewide.

From the introduction of Smartboards, robotic devices, and MakerSpace units in recent years, to the partnership with Schelkin, to the innovation lab and other technologies expected next year, the district has created a STEM model for others to follow. The dedicated innovation lab with portable stations will be the only such space at a public school throughout the area.

“The School Committee is hoping the innovation lab will be a success. All of our decisions this year are in the hopes of bringing students back to the district and keeping those we have,” said SEBRSC Chair Martha Berthiaume.

Moreover, school officials intend to introduce Milo robotic units next year, and Destination Imagination opportunities are slated for the elementary school level. Student interest in STEM has surged in all schools, and the stateof-the-art innovation lab will bring a new dynamic to learning.

Replete with mobile stations and collaboration “hive” units, the lab will be a versatile setting to serve a variety of purposes.

“I would like to see the innovation lab used not just during school hours, but also by the community as well,” Crowe added. “I can envision teachers doing professional development in the lab, or sports teams reviewing videos. I want the lab to be fully utilized and a great asset to the community.”

The opportunities for the lab are unlimited, school leaders said. Residents will have a chance to tour the space during a Sept. 30 open house at DPHS.

Meanwhile, Prouty students are gearing up for the new earth and space science course that will enable them to team up with students abroad. Students at Blackstone Valley Technical High School, who are already using Schelkin’s international partnership model, will visit Prouty soon to discuss what the experience has been like. Not only do students get to work on a team project despite being half a world away, but they also learn more about each other’s cultures and commonalities.

“This is how students are going to learn in the future, by conferencing, sharing data, and solving problems,” Crowe said. “It’s important for us to give our students that experience.”