Park City Learning Center embraces new approach, name
Changes designed to make students enthusiastic about learning
It was a trip that would change the future of the Park City Learning Center.
Tracy Sjostrom, the school’s principal, a counselor and a few teachers visited a school in Denver earlier this year that had implemented Summit Learning, a blended-learning program geared at teaching students through combining technology with active, hands-on experience.
The school seemed to embody every ideal Sjostrom envisioned for the Learning Center, which serves Park City High School students who are not a fit for a traditional learning environment. Sjostrom, who has focused on increasing the Learning Center’s rigor while also getting students to be more enthusiastic about their education, was dazzled by what she saw.
“I don’t want this to be a place where we’re just giving them minimal amounts of work to do just to get through and get that diploma,” she said. “I feel like that’s a disservice. This program provides everything we were looking for.”
Park City is about the see for itself. The school district is partnering with Summit Public Schools, the organization that created Summit Learning, to bring the program to the Learning Center, a move that Sjostrom said will empower her students to direct their own education.
“We are the first school in the state to implement this system, but it is in 40-plus states,” Sjostrom said. “What the research is showing so far with student success is it’s mainly this type of population where they’re seeing the greatest improvement.”
The move is also is cause for a rebrand. The school is in the process of changing its name to the Park City Learning Academy, which better reflects the kind of environment it will become.
“The Learning Center has been around for a while, and sadly the perception in the community has been that all the bad kids come here, which that’s certainly not the case,” Sjostrom said. “We’re letting people know what an awesome place this is and that there are big changes on the horizon.”
Importantly, the shift comes at no cost to the district. The program receives funds through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — the philanthropic organization started by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan — and paid for the Learning Center’s staff to fly to San Francisco this summer for training. The program will also provide ongoing professional development and resources, while the online platform students and teachers will use is free.
A typical week for students will now consist of time divided between personalized learning time, in which they’ll study content at their own pace then take assessments, and completing projects that will require them to put what they’ve learned into action, Sjostrom said.
Summit Learning’s primary goal is to teach students how to be thinkers, Sjostrom said, rather than simply flooding them with content and asking them to regurgitate it. Students exposed to learning in a hands-on way tend to be more engaged and understand better how taking their education seriously can benefit their lives in the future.
Teachers will be working with the students every step of the way, forming the kind of bonds with them that are rare at traditional schools, and charting their progress. They will also push the students to achieve goals they set for themselves.
“A lot of kids are like, ‘Why do I have to learn algebra?’” she said. “And now they see why they have to learn it because they have this great project to do on event planning or genetic testing or whatever.
“It’s a great opportunity for our kids because they lost their enthusiasm to learn somewhere and I want to bring it back,” she added. “We’re born programmed to learn and be curious, and I want kids to walk in the door and be really excited to learn. I believe that’s going to happen.”
For more information, visit the Learning Center’s website, pclc.pcschools.us.
The arsenic-and-lead-containing soil has been a contentious issue for the district, which piled it onto the junior high campus in actions that were later discovered to be in violation of a covenant with the Environmental Protection Agency.
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