The Amherst Careers in Education Professions Program offered an Interterm course that participants compared to a kind of Amazing Race meets Shark Tank, were they to take on 21st century education issues.
Mid-January, ten students —mostly Amherst students, with some students from the Five Colleges and beyond— visited schools in Amherst, Greenfield, Holyoke and Springfield, meeting about 40 educators: teachers, administrators, counselors, community leaders and leaders of after-school programs.
“We split them into teams, gave them access to some of the most experienced and thoughtful education leaders in the Pioneer Valley, and asked them to create a concept for a school that serves its community in unique ways,” said Robert A. Siudzinski, director of Amherst Careers in Education Professions.
The goal was to address problems that get in the way of the level playing field for all students.
“We need to get all our students to that starting line,” said Dennis Quinn, Associate Director & Director of Mentoring Programs for Reader to Reader, one of the designers of the interterm course, "Experiential Education Studies: Integrating liberal arts as a platform for innovative thought in education policy."
Over a week in January, students were taken on surprise trips to mini-workshops on experiential education, design thinking, discussion leadership, and group dynamics.
Teams of Amherst and Five College students worked to create “solution pitches” for a new full-service community school model that was presented to an audience of superintendents, educators and community members.
Students came up with plans that included visions for a public charter school and full-service community schools.
Their ideas included a free choice period for teachers, changing the standard physical education class to a fitness class, and creating more opportunities to bring families into the schools.
“Everybody has something special to bring,” said George Long '17.
One team put a little more theater into their presentation. As one team member stood silently, representing a new student in the primary school system, her teammate applied sticky notes to her, representing all the labels a child may be burdened with over time.
Educators liked what they saw.
“There is so much here that we know is critical,” said Greenfield Public Schools Superintendent Jordana Harper. “It doesn’t necessarily look like the schools you saw, but it reflects a vision. This is encouraging.”
"You certainly pulled together some impressive educators," said Bob Kuklis ’61, a retired educator who served on the expert panel. "The students asked insightful questions that generated important observations and ideas … [the] work in opening them to future involvement in education gives promise to the future."