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‘Micro School’ pilot program to be launched

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BY AMELIA HARPER
Staff Writer

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Edgecombe County Public Schools is “kind of” opening a new school this year.

The new North-Phillips Micro School of Innovation will involve 30 eighth- and ninth-grade students who will pilot a new school model housed within the walls of North Edgecombe High School this year. The new “micro school” will implement and test the new school model of Phillips Middle School and North Edgecombe High School, which was designed during the school district’s recent participation in the Transcend+New Schools Collaborative.

“We will be opening a new school this year. Not really. But sorta, kinda,” said Dr. Valerie Bridges, superintendent of Edgecombe County Public Schools.

Bridges said the purpose of the micro school is to test the model on a small group of students first with the possibility of expansion next year and full implementation of the new model at North Edgecombe High School and Phillips Middle School in the 2020-21 school year.

“The model is designed to support students in becoming the architects of their own lives and has a primary focus on project-based learning, interdisciplinary learning and building student resilience,” said Erin Swanson, director of innovation at Edgecombe County Public Schools.

The 30 students in the new micro school are volunteers who were selected through an application process, Swanson said. The families had to support the idea and have already had meetings with school officials to learn more about what to expect of the coming year. Students come to the pilot program with different backgrounds and abilities.

“We wanted a diverse student population for this pilot and we got that,” Swanson said. 

The eighth- and ninth-grade in the Micro School of Innovation will study together at North Edgecombe High, Swanson said. Their learning content will be delivered mainly in the form of project-based learning with a goal of helping students identify their passions as they learn, Swanson said. While other schools in the district already have been using project-based learning on a limited basis in some classrooms, students in the micro school will be using the more hands-on, project-based learning model all day, every day

“This micro school will be unique in that all the learning content will be delivered this way and will be integrated more holistically. This model is more student-driven. The questions will focus on ones the student is interested in answering,” Swanson said.

Students will begin by helping to design heir own classroom space, Swanson said.

Testing will differ at the micro school as well. While these students will still participate in school district benchmark and End-of-Grade tests to help monitor their comparative progress, most of the other traditional testing will be eliminated, Swanson said.

“Students will be using design thinking to create solutions and test them out. Then we use authentic assessment that focuses on the products created, the process involved and the proficiency the student has gained in the design thinking model,” Swanson said.

In addition to the project-based learning, the micro school will also incorporate “standards labs,” a personalized platform that tracks mastery of certain skills, and a “Genius Bar,” a place where an expert from the community helps answer questions and guide students on their learning journey, Swanson said.

“Several talented people in the community have already told us they are excited about this and want to get involved,” Swanson said.

The development of social-emotional learning skills are also an important part of the micro school, Swanson said. Students will be using components including “meta-moments,” and “where you at” checks to reflect on their state of mind, learning progress and goal setting. They will also be engaging in an social-emotional learning program called “Roses in Concrete” for four hours a week.

Swanson said her vision is to expand the concept in the future.

“This year is strictly a pilot year. We will be testing various components of the model to see what is most effective. When we have a sense of what elements are most effective, we should hopefully be able to expand to other grade levels and content areas,” Swanson said. “If it works, we hope to see a whole school transformation in about three years.”

Bridges said she is cautiously optimistic about the pilot program.

“We are excited about this, but we are cautious as well. We want to make sure that we get this right before we open this up to a whole school,” she said.

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