Applications soon for School of Inquiry

PLYMOUTH — With the application date for applying for inclusion in the School of Inquiry at Plymouth High School only weeks away, Director Ken Olson is busy getting the word out.
Officially, the first day for submitting an application for incoming freshman for the 2012-13 school year is Jan. 3. Applications are expected to be considered until Jan. 15-16.
“The first 50 students to enroll will be guaranteed a spot,” Olson said. “If there are more than 100, a lottery system will determine those that will be accepted in the maximum of 100 students.”
The first year, only 100 students will be enrolled. Then, 100 will be added each year for a total of four years.
Olson presented an overview of the proposed program to the Plymouth School Board, parents/guardians and community members.
The School of Inquiry will be, in essence, a school within a school. Students in the program will be using project-based leaning methods as they work through a number of different real-world projects. However, there will also be ample time for students to take other elective courses along with some of the core courses needed for graduation in the more traditional classroom setting.
Olson explained that the first year offerings will be Global Perspectives, 21st Century Communication, and Leadership Institute in the New Tech School. Students will then “passport” out of the school to take math, foreign language, and other electives.
Although future course work in the School of Inquiry could change, Olson outlined what could be added during a student’s sophomore, junior and senior years.
Although the school board members only voted on the offerings for the first year, Olson suggested new courses that will be added in future years including Democracy in America, Personal Finance, European Perspective, Agrinomics, and Food Engineering.
According to Olson, project-based learning was introduced in 1990s in Silicon Valley, Calif. with funding from the Bill Gates Foundation. To date, there are 85 schools using the concept nationwide, with 19 of those being in Indiana. Plymouth will be number 20. Other area high schools that are using the New Tech programming include Rochester, South Bend Riley, Columbia City, Huntington, and Ft. Wayne Wayne.
“It’s a new way of learning, but not necessarily a new way of teaching,” Olson said. “It is inquiry-based. We want students to ask questions. We want to turn out students who will seek knowledge.”
To help illustrate how the program is different from traditional classrooms, Olson, said, “It’s not about students sitting in class and having the teacher tell them what will be on the test. It’s about collaborative learning. Experts say that 80 percent of the jobs that these students will be working at in the future have not been invented yet. Students will have to have skills to adapt to the world that’s ever changing with an economy that is unknown.”
The first year, classes will be held in the Learning Center room that is located in the middle of PHS and in the speech room/small theatre. Olson said administrators are meeting with architects to talk about the design of the space that would look more like a professional open concept setting than a traditional classroom with desks and will have flexible furnishings. The area of PHS that now houses the pool will be renovated for the School of Inquiry.