DOWNEY – Members from the 21st Century Learning Exemplar Program (P21) visited several Downey Unified school sites June 1 to validate that the school district provides students with an effective 21st Century learning environment.
Currently there are 59 Exemplar Schools nationwide and, if selected, Downey Unified would be one out of seven school districts in California to receive this designation.
“Normally, this accreditation is on a school by school basis,” shared Superintendent Dr. John Garcia. “The fact that Downey Unified is in the process to get this accreditation district-wide is an enormous feat and a tribute to our amazing teachers, administrators and staff.”
School districts that earn the Exemplar Status receive special P21 Exemplar School Designation which will provide them with the following: being showcased on the P21 website; local, state and national media exposure; opportunities to present at conferences with P21 as exemplars; participation in P21 events and national visibility.
Due to the present advancement in technology, providing students with a 21st Century-based curriculum ensures they will be prepared for college and/or technical careers of their choice post-graduation. Downey Unified is recognized as a state and national leader in the implementation of Career Technical Education (CTE) programs and Project Lead The Way (PLTW). PLTW courses at the middle school level, and CTE courses at the high school level, allow students to learn and develop as technology continues to advance and change providing them with an educational competitive edge on a global scale.
“The Downey Unified CTE office has received three competitive grants in the past few years totaling over $10 million,” said Phil Davis, career technical education director. “The MADE career initiative (former CTE program), in its first year, has had a huge impact on our students and we are very proud to be able to provide them with a 21st Century education.”
The evaluation team from P21 visited several Downey Unified school sites to experience the implementation of CTE and PLTW programs. This team traveled to the two comprehensive high schools (Downey and Warren), two middle schools (Stauffer and Sussman) and one elementary school (Old River).
“The main concept we are trying to get across in my classroom is problem solving,” said Greg Benner, technology teacher at Sussman Middle School. “Students are able to use their critical thinking skills as they design, program and build real-world objects.”
Students in Mr. Benner’s class interacted with the P21 team sharing the process they go through to build and then code robots, programing it to follow a maze across the classroom floor. Several of Mr. Benner’s students even expressed their future plan of pursuing careers in engineering post-graduation.
Stauffer Middle School implementation of PLTW programs span throughout the campus, even extending to courses such as culinary arts. Teachers emphasize the science and chemistry behind cooking by providing students with basic instructions and then allowing them to create their own food ensemble, giving each the ability to think critically to discover what ingredients work and react well together.
Alyda Mir, principal at Stauffer Middle School, shared with the P21 team the importance of offering PLTW courses to students at the middle school level stating, “We want to make sure that we at Stauffer, along with the other middle schools, provide students with a 21st Century learning environment that gives them an advantage when transitioning into high school.”
At Downey High School, many classrooms have been renovated in order to incorporate 21st Century technology into the classroom. These learning environments are now larger, furniture is more functional by allowing students to rearrange desks within seconds and teachers are now able to project lessons using a SAFARI Montage camera. This type of mobile/movable classroom resonates one main component of 21st Century Education, the Fives C’s. These updated classrooms now provide students with the opportunity to Collaborate, Communicate, think Critically, be Creative and gain Citizenship skills that are fundamental for their future success.
Students at Downey and Warren High School are also able to check out Chromebooks during class to work on assignments and group projects. Currently, Warren is in the process of establishing the same system of having functional, 21st Century classrooms for students.
These architectural and technological updates are all possible due to the school bond measure that was passed in November 2014 (Measure O), which covers a 12 year span and will affect all schools district-wide, officials said. These funds will provide all Downey Unified schools with various renovations to ensure that each student has access to advanced instructional technology to better prepare them for college and/or careers post-graduation.
In conjunction with these factors, Downey Unified has also implemented additional 21st Century education through the STEAM 15, a group of traveling teachers enlisted to provide STEAM (Science, Technology, English, Arts and Mathematics) instruction to kindergarten through fifth-grade students throughout the district. For 90 minutes, twice a month, students are able to participate in quality hands-on 21st Century-based projects that promote collaboration, critical thinking, communication and creativity. On the final stop of this visitation, the P21 team saw the STEAM15 in action at Old River Elementary School.
The P21 evaluation is based on six factors: evidence of commitment to college, career and life readiness; educational support systems and sustainable design; engaged learning approaches; equitable student access to 21st Century learning; evidence of student acquisition of 21st Century knowledge and skills; and partnerships for sustainable success.
The 21st Century Exemplar Program is in its fourth year of existence and is considered to be the foundation for the next stage of 21st Century education. The program’s ultimate goal is to identify, document, promote and celebrate examples of successful 21st Century learning.
Accreditation results are expected to be released during the 2016-17 school year.