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GREENFIELD - Whitnall's elementary and middle schools will change class structures next year in an attempt to further personalize learning in the district.

Superintendent Lisa Olson and principals of each elementary school and middle school recently presented changes that will be coming to the schools in the 2017-2018 school year.

Personalized effort

In the grade schools, they will be expanding what has been known as the Personalized Learning Experience (PLEx) program throughout the whole school, combining all sections of each grade into on collaborative learning "community."  At the middle school, this change will come through a reformed schedule.

The hope is that these changes will help students learn better because the class time is structured to fit their learning pace, learning style, and interests.

"It’s really about the learning that’s going on, and we want to make sure that we are individually reaching each student and meeting them where they are academically and, as we expand our definition, socially and emotionally," said Olson.

The school board, teachers and administrators have been looking at ways to rethink learning in the district for the past two years, which included interviewing students and parents about the school day and how it might improve. These changes are some of the first to come through that process.

RELATED:Whitnall looking to add new classes, class structures in schools

Elementary changes 

Both Hales Corners Elementary and Edgerton Elementary have "pilot tested" different versions of learning communities in the past two years. Now, they're planning to combine all sections of each grade into one community.

ARCHIVES:Whitnall school district expanding PLEx to 4th grade

For example, all the fifth-grade teachers will co-teach in one community, along with support from other school staff who used to work with programs such as special education or gifted and talented programs.

Now, those teachers will be entering into the classroom instead of pulling kids away from their peers.

“There are students for various reasons that get pulled out of classes right now,” Olson explained. “What we’re finding is sometimes students early on identify with whatever that is and they start to question that piece of it, because they’re being asked to be removed from a learning environment. … One of the things that we’re really looking at is pushing in the adults instead of pulling out the students.”

Through keeping the kids together, the hope is to create a much more inclusive environment in which kids can still get the individual attention they may need to catch up or be further challenged in a particular area.

In the middle

At the middle school, the traditional school day of seven 52-minute classes will be replaced with a schedule that will allow different core classes, like science and language arts, to mesh together.

The specific schedule is still in flux, said Principal Lynn Leory, but the idea is to have two large sessions around 100 minutes long during which students will focus on their core classes.

“We’ve actually expanded the amount of core content time, we’ve just divided it up over those two blocks," Leroy said. "This time can be very creative. So much like elementary teachers already do, teachers on these teams can decide how they want to use that time."

In this time, the teachers will work together to either divide the time equally among the different subjects or be able to have lesson days based more on one subject and show how that subject has connections in other subjects.

To facilitate this process, teachers and students will likely be placed in "teams" where they can connect with the same group of teachers for core classes.

Students will also have a specific time of the day that will be less structured and when they can get further help on a certain subject area or skill – for example, organization skills – or dive deeper into something they want to further explore. This time can also be a time to work on social or emotional development.

A new start 

In addition to this new core time, students will also begin the day in a "Catch 22" time. The name is not yet set in stone, but the idea is that every 20 to 30 students will have one teacher that they start the day with for about half an hour.

These groups will pretty much stay the same through the three years of school so that students can form a close relationship with one teacher and one group. The class time will also be an opportunity to talk about things that don't naturally fit into the curriculum like character development and internet safety.

For the most part, "applied" classes, such as technical education and foreign language classes, will stay the same. However, a few offerings will change.

For example, family and consumer education (FACE) will morph into a class focused more on college and career readiness, per new government mandates that require career classes starting in sixth grade.

High school changes

The high school has started working on new ways to personalize learning, as well.

Most recently, the school has started offering several nine-week, cross-curricular seminar courses. These elective-style courses are designed to give students the ability to explore a topic of interest that might not otherwise be touched on in the curriculum.

This term, students signed up to explore topics like crime scene investigation, and, according to Olson, the classes have been very successful with high enrollment and excited, engaged students and teachers.

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