The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

February 13, 2014

Teachers create Eagle Academy

By Felicia A. Petro
Allied News Senior Reporter

GROVE CITY — A cyber education pilot program is under way in Grove City schools, which was one of several presentations by teachers at Monday’s school board meeting about all things blossoming in the district.

“I have a group of teachers working on building a virtual learning academy here at Grove City,” said high school Principal Rae Lin Howard. “It’s about engaging students and meeting needs of students. It started very small, and I’m very excited to see where this goes.”

Howard introduced high school technology education and engineering teachers Jared Henshaw and Anthony Leone, as well as social studies teacher Dennis Ranker, who shared with the audience about the up-and-coming Eagle Academy.

The men are members of the district’s technology pioneering program and their group wanted to boldly go where no school had gone before, Rankin said.

The district offers a cyber school through the Midwestern Intermediate Unit IV.

However, “Eagle Academy is called ‘the Grove City Way’ because it’s created by materials from teachers in the district, not from an outside source,” Henshaw said.

The purpose is for students to access the Internet and work at their own pace on a particular subject, he added.

“We do not want students to get caught up in a race,” Rankin added.

“It also enables them to customize and learn more, and pick courses they want,” Leone noted, like adding an extra credit to their school load.

The pioneers hope the Eagle Academy can also open courses to other schools of the district, Rankin said, and no-credit courses like an SAT course.

“We’re encouraging students to look at online college courses as well,” he added, which provide a model for online learning. Superintendent Dr. Richard Mextorf stated that he read of Stanford University having a free, online course that drew 160,000 students.

A template is on Grove City schools’ server for a web design course with one week’s worth of homework, which can be downloaded to the students’ computer desktop and opened in a PDF, Henshaw said. Teachers can use the template to make their own course, he noted.

Mextorf praised teachers in the district using their time outside of school to formulate Eagle Academy.

“You don’t see that a lot,” he said. “This is an example of technology pioneers and they really come through for us ... . Rather than fighting with technology we’re using it with caring individuals who work with the technology.”

Other educators who spoke during the presentation time, which last more than 90 minutes, included high school guidance counselor Howard Scott, who talked about more efficient scheduling methods that are saving his office and students a lot of time.

David Gatewood and Michael Hardenburg spoke about their co-teaching in math. Hardenburg is a math teacher; Gatewood, special education. The district has inclusion classes that place special education and other students in the same room; the teachers’ combined efforts help those who are behind by having one who teaches and another walking the class space to give personal help.

“Having that one-on-one time gives them a little extra confidence and it raises the bar,” Hardenburg said.

“The discipline problems are almost zero,” Gatewood added.

Gail Chutz and Derek Lettich spoke of innovative and fun ways to get middle and high school students to be engaged in physical education, by making classes more about conditioning, education and non-competitive sports.

In traditional models, Lettich said students who aren’t athletic have generally hated phys ed because they were always being outshone by “jocks” who enjoy competition.

Middle school teacher Karen Garland talked about her global participations systems class, formerly call “business,” which  includes an entrepreneur course for upper grades that has led to a store run by students.

Shawn Sowers spoke about the work he’s done with math at the middle school, and Judy Dennis, information technology, talked about the hundreds of devices registered by middle and high school students to access online schoolwork through the district’s filtered computer system.

Teachers from Hillview, including reading specialist Amy Leech and math teacher Michael Parulo; and first-grade math teacher Amy Csajka, presented the board with developments on core standards and in math. Mextorf said all the teachers are achieving the district’s three pillars of education: a boundary-less environment, fully engaging students and teaching the whole child.

“We’re excited about this,” he said.