PLYMOUTH — It was a sea of red and black as 351 uniformed students flooded into the new Washington Discovery Academy — formerly Washington Elementary — on the first day of school Wednesday.
“It’s been so exciting today,” said principal Andrew Hartley. “My goal was just to make sure we had the most welcoming environment today.”
Hartley is in a new situation this year as well — he was formerly assistant principal at Plymouth High School. He explained how the Discovery Academy will work, starting with the school’s focus on project-based learning (PBL).
“Each day, we will have project time — (students) will see a real world problem, and have a driving question around which learning will be focused,” said Hartley. “The length of the projects will vary, but their math and reading work will also be tied to the projects.”
Students will be working in small groups and learning to collaborate. They may also be doing presentations to community leaders and business people to increase their communication skills.
Technology is a major portion of the shift to PBL, said Hartley.
“It’s a relevant skill for kids to learn, and really, to become experts in,” said Hartley.
Kindergarten and first graders will each have their own iPad for classroom use, while second through fourth grade students will be using Mac Books. Hartley said that iPads were chosen for the younger students because the apps available worked well with what the students needed to be learning. The computers will not go home with the students; they are only for classroom use at this time. There are also interactive white boards in each classroom that teachers will use on a daily basis.
“We will continue to look for ways to integrate technology,” said Hartley, adding that teachers have gone through training for the computers.
Hartley said that while Plymouth Community School Corporation students have traditionally done well in state achievement tests, the PBL model may enable students with different learning styles to pick up more skills, and thereby score higher on tests.
Washington Discovery Academy is the only school in the corporation to have uniforms, and Hartley said part of the reasoning behind that decision was that “we wanted to have an ‘academy’ type of feel (for the school).’” Students may wear any style of shirt, as long as it is black or red, and black or khaki pants, shorts, or skirts.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for variety,” said Hartley of the uniform, adding that he considers it to be more of a dress code.