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New learning model part of Cabell schools

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    April Hattori


HUNTINGTON -- Students at two Cabell County Schools not only set forth into a new school year Wednesday morning, they also began their first foray into a new way of learning.

Students at Peyton and Geneva-Kent elementary schools arrived for their final-first days of school in their current schools, and this time next year, are expected to set foot into a new Expeditionary Learning incubator school, which will be the first of its kind in West Virginia.

The schools will be consolidated to form the incubator school, which will be housed in the former Beverly Hills Middle School facility that will be remodeled to fit the mold of the Expeditionary Learning model.

It is an especially exciting prospect for Peyton Principal Ryan McKenzie will be the principal of the incubator school, and he said Expeditionary Learning techniques already are being implemented in both schools.

"It's going to be awesome," McKenzie said Wednesday. "It's very hands on. It's a very real-world way of learning. We'll be working a lot with community partners, people who are experts in their fields. The kids will be going out and doing field work, which is much different than a field trip."

In Expeditionary Learning, students learn by conducting learning expeditions rather than by sitting in a classroom being taught one subject at a time.

The school district has partnered with Marshall University's June Harless Center to offer teachers in Cabell County and throughout the state training on that type of curriculum.

The method includes a strong focus on character lessons that are incorporated into the curriculum and be part of the students' grades, Mckenzie said. "We explicitly will teach and assess character," he said. "It's a little different from regular school where you might have those lessons, but you aren't assessing students on them. We're going to be assessing students on their performance of their character traits.

The character aspect of the method was interesting for Classie Eanes, whose son, Mauryel Garrett is a kindergarten student at Peyton this year.

Eanes and Garrett participated in Peyton's back to school open house, in which parents of the school's more than 150 students took a tour of the school building, learned about community organizations and talked to their children's teachers.

Eanes said she had not heard very much about the Expeditionary Learning method, but said she thinks it will be beneficial to her son.

"My child has a big character, and anything that enhances that, I'm excited about it," Eanes said. "I'm excited because I'm looking forward to him enhancing his reading, learning and everything he needs to know to be a productive adult."

The thrill of the learning method carried over to Geneva-Kent, where Principal Michael Krenzel said he is eager to become more familiar with the method in his first year as principal at the school.

Krenzel will be the assistant principal of the incubator school.

He said teachers at Geneva-Kent will attend conferences about the method, which they will use to teach the 276 students there throughout the year.

"It's been exciting," Krenzel said. "We have a lot of conferences to go to this year to get us started. As we go to those conferences and pick up those methods, we will bring them back to the classrooms. It's going to be interesting for the teachers and the students."

Getting into the classrooms at the incubator school may be easier said than done after bids to remodel the former Beverly Hills facility came in well over budget.

The news was shared by Mike O'Dell, assistant superintendent of operations, during the regular Board of Education meeting Tuesday.

The district has an $8 million budget to transform Beverly Hills into a space that fits the mold of Expeditionary Learning. That includes flexible space for students and teachers, calming paint colors, indirect room lighting and no televisions whatsoever. There will be Smartboards in each classroom, as already is the case with all schools in Cabell County.

When O'Dell opened six bids for the project on July 10, he said the lowest bid for the remodel came in at about $15 million.

Now, the focus is looking at the lists of needs and wants for the school and cutting back where possible, O'Dell said. He also said savings from construction projects at Culloden Elementary School and the Cabell County Career and Technical Center will be applied to the budget for the incubator school.

O'Dell said the bids obviously were not what he expected, and he could only speculate as to why they came in so high.

"I'm not sure anybody can answer that," O'Dell said. "My thought is a lot of it is in the renovation factor. I'm just guessing, but when you have new construction, it's easy to say, 'I need to lay 1,000 blocks,' and it's easy to calculate that. When it's a renovation, you've got to factor in other things like floor levels and existing rooms."

He also said there are a couple of expensive items, including a retaining wall for the school's parking lot, that are non-negotiable for the project. O'Dell was meeting with county officials Wednesday afternoon to talk about other sources of funding for the project.

O'Dell's goal is to re-bid the project in September.

The high bids are a setback for the district, and it could mean setbacks for construction, O'Dell said. However, he remained steadfast in making sure parents know the school will be completed within the budget without sacrificing quality.

"We'll find a way to do this thing," O'Dell said. "It may not be what we initially planned, but keep supporting us, and we'll find a way to do this. We're going to maintain the integrity of this program."

By Lacie Pierson, Herald-Dispatch