AMS leaders

Pilot group members Conner Hughes, Nick Parker, Laynee Stanley at AMS.

ASHLAND A pilot partnership of faculty and students is under way at Ashland Middle School, its goal to improve learning for all students.

Four teachers, two administrators and 25 eighth-graders will spend the school year analyzing and reflecting on what motivates students, how they learn best, and what makes an effective school.

“The hope is to make students reflect on what they are learning and make teachers provide learning experiences that lead to deeper learning,” said eighth-grade social studies teacher Carrie Harmon, one of the faculty members on the team.

Put simply, “Kids learn better and teachers teach better,” she said.

The partnership, based on a model developed at the University of Kentucky College of Education, is about “transforming a school through deeper learning experiences,” Harmon said.

For instance:

— An emphasis on project-based learning, tackling real-world problems facing the community.

— Allowing students more latitude in demonstrating what they’ve learned, such as substituting projects for traditional tests. One student created a video using the popular Minecraft computer game and another illustrated his American history project with the cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants, Harmon said.

The job of the 25 students, dubbed the AMS Trailblazers, is to communicate with the teachers so faculty can get a student’s-eye view of their efforts.

They also will document their learning experiences and compile supporting evidence.

The pilot group was chosen from a cross-section of AMS students, Harmon said.

Some are high achievers and some are academically average. The common denominator is a commitment to the project and to hard work. “We wanted students who would take it seriously,” she said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, and because I was picked and because I felt the teachers expected a lot from me I want to do it,” said Laynee Stanley, one of the students. “I’m super excited about it because it’s something that not only helps us but other kids to be prepared for high school.”

They also wanted students willing to provide frank and honest answers to some sticky questions. During the year the teachers will interview 100 students, including the pilot group, with an eye toward finding out what they like — and don’t like — about school, and how to improve it. “We’ve interviewed kids who love school and who hate school, even kids in in-school suspension,” she said.

At the end of the year the pilot group will present their findings to a panel of educators. The focus will be on their middle-school experiences and whether those experiences prepared them for high school.

The students also will take on community projects. Already they have worked on a food and awareness drive for River City Harvest and are developing an app for reporting civic issues to community leaders.

“The leadership opportunities they are giving us, we’re building a portfolio to present, so if we do a project we have to take a leadership role,” said Nick Parker, one of the pilot students. That prepares them to step up in their high-school careers and later in life, he said.

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