"Look, the lights went on!" "We got our door to open automatically!" Excited voices of seventh graders in Kevin Brown's classroom spill out into the halls of Calloway County Middle School in rural Kentucky. The students are installing electrical circuits in shoebox structures they have designed and built.
The project requires the students to work together to create a plan, conduct research, build a structure, and wire it so that lights and doors can be controlled by a switch. It's called, "Energy: The Ability to Do Work or Cause Change."
Change has become a way of life for Calloway's teachers, students, and parents, who have been working together for more than seven years to improve their school and to implement reforms required by the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA). KERA redesigned the entire public school system in the commonwealth, establishing new guidelines for curriculum and assessment, expanding family-support services, planning for effective technology integration, and increasing decision-making authority at school sites.
At Calloway, management councils were established to look at all aspects of restructuring at once. Making a shift from a departmentalized junior high structure to interdisciplinary teaching teams with flexible scheduling was one decision that had a major impact on the school. "I was ready to quit," says Nancy Schempp, a teacher who works on a team with Kevin Brown. "Now I'm excited again, and so are my students."
Calloway's involvement with the National Alliance for Restructuring Education (NARE) helped further the school's efforts. As a pilot site for this "break-the-mold" school design, Calloway received support from NARE's business and educational partners that included technology donations, professional development opportunities, and access to a network of experts and other teachers.
"We are working toward developing a school in which students and teachers seek the highest levels through advanced technology, collaboration, problem-based learning, and meaningful assessment," says teacher Shirley Cothran. "We provide unlimited access to new learning tools and the support and safety necessary to see that all succeed."