CAMAS — When Gov. Jay Inslee’s visit to Odyssey Middle School was delayed about an hour, school officials asked how many students wanted to stay past dismissal time for the visit, and nearly 60 of the 115 students in attendance on Wednesday opted to stay late.
It’s that sort of enthusiasm that has the first-year project-based middle school ready to double in enrollment next year, and part of the reason Inslee visited the school on his statewide education tour to support school funding.
“They have fully excited students, because they have a connection between the lesson plan and something they’re working on,” Inslee said. “I’m a total believer in project-based learning. If you give a student a project, they then own it. It’s theirs. They have a connection to it, a motivation to see it through. It’s much more successful than giving them a piece and paper and saying, ‘Go solve a story problem.'”
Project-based learning allows students to collaborate on complex questions, problems and challenges over an extended period of time. The projects cover multiple subject areas and typically address real-world issues. The students are separated by grade, and throughout the day, work in a traditional class setting in different-sized groups. Sometimes, all students in a given grade learn together; other times, the grade is split in half, with each side learning different subjects. The students also split up in smaller groups to work on projects most afternoons
The Camas School District opened Odyssey Middle School, 5780 N.W. Pacific Rim Blvd., Camas, this year with 112 sixth- and seventh-graders. The school will add eighth-graders in the fall, and increase enrollment to about 224 students, Principal Aaron Smith said. A project-based learning high school, Discovery High School, will be built next to the middle school and open in time for the 2018-2019 school year.
“The most noticeable difference is the level of engagement,” Smith said. “There’s more student engagement than I’ve seen in my 20 years in education.”
Smith said it was exciting to highlight the work of his staff and students for Inslee.
“It took a big leap of faith from students, families and teachers to start something from scratch,” he said. “We’ve created something magical. Our kids are happy and engaged. That’s not by accident.”
While Inslee walked around Odyssey talking to students on Wednesday, they talked about their school work, from putting together animal costumes to using recycled tires to build chairs.
“They’re learning teamwork, they’re learning consensus building, they’re learning apologies, they’re learning how to build a team,” he said. “It’s everything you need throughout life. Whether you’re in a business or a church, whereever you are, you have to know how to operate in a team.”
State budget update
While in Camas, Inslee also met with school and district staffers, as well as parents who have kids at Odyssey, to talk about the state budget. State legislators will likely have to enter a third overtime session to reach a deal on an education funding plan and the budget. State legislators have until midnight June 30 to sign an operating budget before facing a partial government shutdown.
Inslee told the group that the two sides are still “way, way apart” and he is “quite concerned” that it’s this late in the year and the two sides still don’t have an agreement.
The group also had a chance to tell Inslee what educational tools and services they think are important, including professional development, teacher mentors and career connected learning services.
“We’ve told kids it’s a failure if they don’t get a four-year degree,” Inslee said. “That’s wrong.”
Inslee talked about bringing more career services into high schools and having students look at technical schools.
“We lose kids when they don’t see the relevance in what we’re teaching,” he said.
Camas Superintendent Jeff Snell said he thinks part of why Odyssey has been so successful in its first year is because teachers are bringing authentic world problems to the classroom.
“We really believe strongly in partnerships between business, our communities and schools,” Snell said. “It’s one of the cornerstones of our campus.”