(Photos by Randy M. Cauthron)
The two-day collaborative undertaking served as a supplement to what students are currently learning in the classroom. The real-life lessons were taught by a mixture of SHS teachers, ILL representatives and Clay County Naturalist Stacy Young.
"This type of stuff is really what excites kids about learning, while they're in an environment that you get second to none up at the Lakeside Lab," SHS Principal Joe Mueting said. "Chris (Oponski, the Spencer school district's ILL coordinator,) and the teachers all worked on trying to make this a meaningful experience within their disciplines, yet seeing the bigger picture.
The SHS freshmen rotated between four sessions offered Tuesday and Thursday. Spencer teacher Kim Noethe, ILL Executive Director Peter van der Linden and Prairie Lakes Group of Sierra Club member Jane Kauzlarich presented a "Shakespeare and Botany" session. "Literally Littoral: Aquatic Macroinvertebrates," offered by SHS teacher Rodney Brown and ILL Education Coordinator Jane Shuttleworth, had students setting up a makeshift lab at lakeside to collect and examine various organisms. A "Nature Writing and Sketching" session was presented by Young, teacher Amy Metcalf and ILL board member Ann Fitzgibbons. And, the "Water Chemistry Parameters" session, put on by SHS teachers Oponski and Katie Maaland, invited freshmen to collect water samples and perform water quality analysis testing.
The Spencer school district's partnerships with outside entities such as ILL is not limited to this week's special programming, though.
SHS teacher Sherry Clark provides another example of district collaboration. Clark, who oversees the high school building's careers program, has helped freshmen, sophomore and junior students progress through the "I Have a Plan" program this school year. It is designed to assist students in defining their interests and abilities, as well as the careers they are compatible with.
Mueting reported that approximately 70 students returned on the afternoon of a recent early-dismissal day to take part in defined tours of local industries representing three different career clusters and pathways. In addition to tours conducted at Spencer Hospital, participating SHS students followed Craig Wampler, owner of Midstates Builders. They were taken to job sites, saw his office and the drafting that occurs there, and learned about every job that affects his business.
"The students were on target, on task and asked good questions. Sherry came back and was on cloud nine with how our kids responded to this opportunity," Mueting said. "And, to think about it, they didn't have to be in school. That, to me, says a lot about the value our community and our kids are putting on these kinds of opportunities. These are the great things that are happening -- and it's something that we're trying to put into the common mix of the regular curriculum, not as extra but as 'this is the way we want to do business.'"
SHS freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors are expected to take part in the "I Have a Plan" program next year.
"The career piece we offer, the (Department of Education) told us last year that this is the intent. This is what they want to see schools do," Mueting said. "... What I want to see, and I think everybody does, is we're showing students the kinds of opportunities that are available in Spencer. They can come back here and make a very good living doing very high-skilled work. There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle here that our students typically don't understand because for too long high school has been four walls. We've got to spread out our high school. We've got to go in a lot of different directions to give kids an opportunity. And, their learning curve will go up as well."
Meuting, who is marking his third year serving as SHS's principal, was also instrumental in pursuing and realizing another collaborative school-community effort created to benefit students. A Health Occupations vocational strand of classes slated to be offered next school year became a reality when Spencer Hospital agreed to partner with the district on it.
"A community school is a community. It's not a block of buildings just on the east side of town. And, that's what's great about Spencer -- everybody in this town is for this school. We're all Tigers," Mueting said. "And, yes, I think that this is the future of education. I think this is the vision that we have to have in secondary education, to branch out and form these partnerships. What we're doing with the hospital is unique, but a needed part of a community. They have a need and we have a need. And, now it's a win-win and the real winners are the kids. ... I get really excited about these kind of things that make education more meaningful for kids and see the connection to the community."