15 August 2009
Space school will be tested this fall
Sue McMillin
The Gazette

[From: Bill Sulzman - this is a very disturbing story about the military industrial complex taking over a public school lock, stock and barrel.]

Colorado Springs School District 11 will enter into a grand experiment this fall with a gambit to turn a troubled school into an science-aimed institution where students will reach for the stars. As leaders await the results, we explain how they've prepared to test their hypothesis:

PROBLEM: Can a failed middle school in a low-income, transient part of town be
remade into a high-achieving school?

BACKGROUND: The Emerson Edison Junior Academy had such low test scores that it was put on a federally-mandated improvement plan for several years. But it didn't improve, so Colorado Springs School District 11 was required to restructure or close the school. An idea to create a space-themed school was bolstered when the nonprofit U.S. Space Foundation expressed interest in partnering with the school district to create a unique school. In December, the D-11 school board decided to keep the school open and pursue the partnership.

HYPOTHESIS: A school with a rigorous, interdisciplinary curriculum that has lots of hands-on projects to show students how what they're learning applies in the real world can keep them engaged in education, help them achieve and prepare them for high school, college and the work world.

  • School building, 4220 E. Pikes Peak Ave., that can accommodate about 800 students.
  • Desk, chairs, tables, computers, books and hundreds of other school furnishings.
  • Sixth, seventh and eighth graders from surrounding neighborhood, which has a high percentage of apartment complexes, many low-income families, many Spanish-speaking families and is known as a high crime area.
  • A principal, Larry Bartel, to pull it all together in about four months.
  • A staff of teachers, counselors and support professionals willing to try new things and be under a microscope as the school develops, and who spent countless hours getting the school ready.
  • A partnership with the U.S. Space Foundation, which is helping develop curriculum and will provide experiential laboratories in its portion of the campus, teacher training and daily support for staff.
  • A project-based interdisciplinary curriculum.
  • Dozens of volunteers - including Fort Carson soldiers and airmen from Peterson Air Force Base - to get the school ready, mentor students and assist teachers.
  • A culture of achievement that is created by the staff and students and permeates everything.

The "testing" portion of this experiment being undertaken by District 11 begins on Tuesday, when about 530 students will walk through the doors at the Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy. That number is the first indicator of success - the district projected 475 students the first year. It also has attracted students who have enrolled from neighboring districts, Bartel said.

The critical results, as measured first in standardized test scores and then in how well the students do in high school, won't be known for months or years.

But those involved in the school clearly believe that the hypothesis will be proven true and the school will become a model that will help others bridge the achievement gap between rich and poor, minority and white.

"This was a school that failed AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) for six years," said Mary Ley,D-11's project manager. "Everyone knew what the obstacles were and nobody has shied away."

Including Bartel, an assistant principal at Palmer High School and former physics teacher who was named to lead the reborn school in March and began working to create it in April. He said he was attracted by "the science and the potential."

"This project is bigger than any one person," he said. "One of my biggest jobs is to support the ideas and innovations of the staff."

While Tuesday may be a "typical first day" at Swigert, Bartel said within three or four days the students will notice the differences, particularly the sixth graders. Seventh and eighth graders will have a more traditional curriculum this year, although they'll get a flavor of the aerospace emphasis.

The school will forego bells, because there will be flexible periods that could be used for a long laboratory session or two shorter classes. There will be more team teaching, collaboration, mentoring and generally "more adults in the building," Bartel said.

Students will each be issued a "commanders log" that will include work from all subject areas so they can see how they relate.

And the sixth graders will do a project every nine weeks that will be reviewed by community experts. They'll build, for example, miniature hydrogen fuel cell cars, tiny solar cars and model rockets.

Bartel and Space Foundation curriculum experts said the goal isn't to create a school of rocket scientists, but rather to use space to ignite an interest in learning. In fact, D-11 has added the letter A to the STEM acronym, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and is calling it a STEAM school because it will include the arts.

Iain Probert, vice president for education for the Space Foundation, said the beauty of adding arts to a STEM school is that it will encourage artists, designers, marketing specialists and others who play a vital role in the aerospace industry.

But that would be part of "next steps" once the school brings up those test scores and proves the hypothesis.

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