Last week, I had the chance to visit Lake Myra Elementary School near Wendell and while I was there, I spent some time with principal Jim Argent, a fellow I find to be as passionate about his work as any educator I’ve ever met. He smiles and his eyes sparkle – all the time – when he talks about what’s going on in his school.
He took me to what they call the Synergy Suite. It’s a place in the school set aside for the before-school and after-school programs. During the day, that space used to sit empty, but Argent landed on a cool idea. Learning, he said, takes place when students work together and make the educational experience fun. So the Synergy Suite was born. It’s set up like a coffee shop, with high tables and chairs in the center of the room. In one corner, there’s a green screen like TV weathermen use to put maps up behind them. There’s a video camera in front of the green screen where students create videos. On a table on the opposite wall is where a stack of iPads sit until they are picked up by students to use. In another corner is an easel where students brainstorm together.
People including kids, tend to be social creatures. They like to be around other people and interact. The Synergy Suite lets them do that.
Argent whipped out his Blackberry.
“Here, let me show you,” he said. He found several emails from a teacher whose students had been studying the Boston Massacre, one of the seminal events that led to the Revolutionary War (I know that because I had to look it up.) Each email included a cartoon video produced by students who were assigned to act as reporters and report on the event. Most that I listened to featured computerized voiceovers that sounded much more realistic than some of the recordings you hear on business voice systems.
But one girl went an extra step and recorded her own voice. The inflection of her voice made her sound like someone who had been there in person.
As I watched these videos, I was struck by the advanced way children learn today and the tools teachers use to teach them.
Other schools are operating at a much higher level than they did just a generation ago. At East Wake High School, one of my own children is working on a project to promote propane as a more eco-friendly alternative fuel than other options. At Garner High School, where I’ve had the chance to work with members of the newspaper staff, they have a much better grasp of technology than I do. They know how to string good, concise sentences together and how to ask good questions, something I can promise you I couldn’t have done at that age.
Learning certainly happens differently today than it did 30 years ago. That’s not really a secret. But the things we are asking our children to learn are also much more advanced than anything students dealt with just a few decades ago. One thing, though, remains a constant. Educators like Jim Argent at Lake Myra Elementary, Kelly Krepelka at Garner High School and William Tomlinson at East Wake High School all approach their work with a passion and an energy that makes students want to learn.
And they all deserve more support than they get.
Are you listening Gov. McCrory?