At six Clarke County School District elementary schools, students meet weekly in enrichment clusters – a way to engage students in the context of one of their interest areas. Whether it’s gardening, oceanography, service learning, photography, dance or much more, students are able to relate subjects such as English, math, social studies and science to a topic they’re excited about.
“Students are learning, but they don’t realize it. They are having fun while being taught the standards within the context of something they’re really interested in,” said J.J. Harris Elementary Charter School principal Xernona Thomas.
In the clusters, students are placed in interest-based groups to work together to produce a product, service or performance based on their common interest. The groups meet for an hour, once a week, for about ten weeks. The group members may differ in age and expertise, but all of the students work together to accomplish their goal. In the clusters, teachers act as facilitators, while students participate in authentic, inductive learning.
These clusters help promote active learning, where the students are the ones exploring, rather than just regurgitating, information. And the student-driven topics tend to motivate students to participate, which leads to more effective learning.
“There are no lesson plans detailing the entire eight weeks,” said Thomas. “Students actually do research and decide on a final project or service. That decision will guide the cluster.”
The Schoolwide Enrichment Model is a national program developed by Joseph Renzulli from the University of Connecticut. The basic goal is to promote a school environment where the mind, spirit and values of each student are developed in an atmosphere that is enjoyable, interesting, and challenging.
In Clarke County, a number of clusters are designed to get students MOVing. For example, in the recent past or in the current semester, the following have been implemented:
- Get on the Move the Latin Way (Latin dancing)
- Healthy Hearts (healthful eating and exercise)
- Fast Track to Success (planning construction of a track at J.J. Harris Elementary Charter School)
- Young Yogis Institute (exploring yoga)
- Putting the ‘Wild’ in Wildcat (dance, gymnastics and more of what it takes to be a team mascot)
- Running for a Purpose (exploring running as a way to fundraise for good causes)
- Zumba Dance Party (combining movement and music)
- plus Step Team, Wiggles and Giggles, Music Makes Me Move, So You Think You Can Get Fit? and many, many more!
While Enrichment Clusters are not automatically expansions or extensions of the Presidential Fitness Program, they can be adapted to do just that. For instance, one cluster last semester decided to take on the task of informing students about the Presidential Fitness Program. They created posters to advertise the program to students within the school and created exercise videos for the morning announcements.
Schools have enjoyed overwhelmingly positive results from enrichment clusters. Students enjoy the opportunity to explore topics in creative ways. In addition, an added benefit is the effect in has had on teachers, as they begin to use the facilitator-style of teaching and learning in the classroom. Getting students MOVing while exercising their minds and bodies is just one of the ways the school district challenges their students to higher levels of achievement.
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