Montclair High School is examining the potential addition of three new small learning communities to its roster: Business & Entrepreneurial Academy, Science Technology Engineering & Math (STEM) Academy, and School of Visual and Performing Arts (SVPA – an expansion of the student existing group). Currently, MHS students are participating in the following SLCs: Center for Social Justice; Civics and Government Institute (CGI); Medical Biology; Ninth Grade Academy; and Robotics and Pre-engineering. MHS’s interdisciplinary, theme-based SLCs were introduced in the fall of 2000.
“One of the most powerful components of the proposed SLCs is the ability to attract diverse learners,” said MHS Principal James N. Earle. “Students from various academic and social backgrounds will have the opportunity to explore and learn with a common curriculum and a common small group of teachers.”
Research has shown that small teaching and learning environments help build sustainable relationships (the same teachers will work with the students over the course of their four academic years); helps students focus with a common curriculum and thematic instruction; prepares students with career and technical skills; attracts a diverse student population; affords students with certification and accreditation as well as the opportunity for internships and job training. Students have the opportunity to study real issues and use teamwork and problem solving skills.
Smaller learning communities at MHS are dynamic and exciting places, where because of their design, the commitment of the teachers, the enthusiasm of the students and the involvement of parents and the community, all students learn more.
The Civics & Government Institute currently has 223 students total in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Some characteristics include: lead teachers-time/funding provided for planning; 10 teachers-sustainable relationships; mentoring period-all students; CGI lab-large and small group activities; mandatory activities-during and after school; and thematic instruction (classes are taught using civics and government issues).
There are currently 135 students in the Center for Social Justice. Some characteristics of the SLC include: lead teacher-time/funding provided for planning; 6 teachers-sustainable relationships; CSJ lab-large and small group activities; mandatory activities-during and after school; thematic instruction-Classes are taught using social justice issues and community service.
All SLCs share several characteristics: interdisciplinary blocks of courses; collaboration and collegial relationships among faculty, including common planning time; enhanced professional development; shared students; shared expectations; more personalized learning environments for the students; extensive involvement of community, parents and other stakeholders; and extension activities. This approach makes it possible for student work to be more actively and closely monitored, and more academically focused, than is possible in a traditional, comprehensive high school.
“SLCs have tremendous benefits for students,” said Tom Manos, CGI advisor. “Being a part of a community in and of itself is valuable. Students and teachers get to know each other very well over three years, in learning style and personality.”
In addition, SLCs present increased opportunities for student leadership and ownership of the learning process. For instance, students are assessed based upon portfolios of work that are prepared over time with extensive feedback from peers and teachers. Other leadership opportunities include Days of Dialogue and peer leadership and mediation programs.
“One of the cornerstones for CSJ is its commitment to developing each student’s voice, critical to CSJ's goal of fostering effective social activists. Every student is required to engage in social, intellectual, and ethical issues, and to articulate their perspectives both in formal written work and orally,” said advisor Phil Easton. “The variety of activities provides each student the ability to exhibit their particular gifts and strengths.”
Foundations of the new Business & Entrepreneurial Academy will include Marketing, Economics, Business Technology, and Fed and Euro Challenge. The basic foundations of STEM will be: Robotics, Architecture, Medical Biology and Project Lead the Way at Mount Hebron Middle School. Project Lead the Way (PLTW) is an important, innovative part of the technology program at Mount Hebron. PLTW teaches pre-engineering concepts at the middle school and is continued at the secondary level at MHS.
Lastly, the foundations of the SPVA will focus on: Orchestra, Band, Visual Arts, Dance, and Theatre.
The structure of the SLC's is outlined over the course of the entire four years of high school. For example, in freshman year, students will have exploratory courses; sophomore year, students will take introduction courses; by junior year, they will be into research/analysis courses and by senior year, students will be participating in application/internship/project courses, followed, after completion, by certification and accreditation from partners where applicable. In addition, interdisciplinary curriculum-teachers will be expected to collaborate with other SLCs during instruction.
Over the next year and a half, faculty will be researching and preparing the necessary curriculum for the SLCs. Implementation of one or more SLCs is anticipated for September 2012.
These efforts have been funded through two U.S. Department of Education grants and several smaller local grants, including monies from the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence and the Schumann Fund for N.J.