by Kevin Dicciani
Jenks Academy for the Arts and Science is looking to prepare its students for the 21st century by empowering students to “drive their own education,” said Jenks Principal Mary Lynskey, and one such way to accomplish that is through the school’s Ignite Program.
Ignite was developed in 2014 after Jenks was selected, along with three other schools, for the School District of Philadelphia’s School Redesign Initiative. The recipients were provided the funding necessary to design innovative, technological programs that would prepare students to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving technological world.
Lynskey hopes Ignite will fulfill that and much more. The program, which will run from July 1 to the end of August, is online-based and requires that students in grades K-7 complete 50 hours worth of educational activities over the course of the summer. The program will allow students to build on what they learned the previous year while previewing their curriculum for the year ahead.
“We’re looking for students to get acquainted with the information so that when they come back into the classroom the homework has really been done, and the teacher can help them to move forward in their learning,” Lynskey said.
Ignite takes the form of an online portal in which, after logging in, students will be able to access books, activities, assignments, poems, videos and other educational opportunities. Each grade will have its own source of reading and educational materials relevant to their grade and the one ahead. When an activity is completed, students will receive a virtual ribbon and their e-portfolio will be updated with various accolades to show their progress.
Lynskey said Ignite will “empower students to be creative, empower them to be problem-solvers, and empower them to drive their own education.”
The benefits of having students work online, Lynskey said, is that it gives them wide access to whatever topics and subjects they want to learn about at the present while setting a precedent for future learning when they are no longer in school and want to continue their studies.
“If online is available to us, we can teach our kids that you’re not just coming at 8:30 in the morning to sit and wait to be enlightened, but that you actually drive yourself through multiple resources to learn anything you want to learn that you have a passion for,” she said. “We want children to be trained so that as they get older, if they want to learn something, they’re not waiting for somebody to teach it to them, but instead using resources where you can teach yourself.”
The portal will also include a calendar that students can visit to see if there are any education events taking place that they can partake in to accrue credit towards their 50 hours. Lynskey calls these events “pop-up field trips.” If there is an educational event, the student can attend the event, record a response in the portal, and put it towards their hours.
If students fail to complete their 50 hours, each five hours missed is counted as a day’s absence. Lynskey said the program has contingency plans in place for those students who may be vacationing with their family. If students are on vacation, or at camp, but have access to the Internet, they will be able to access the portal and complete an activity, such as a travel log. Even if they don’t have access to the Internet, Lynskey said, students can find out which books they should be reading on the portal and take them wherever they go.
To assist the Ignite program, Jenks has partnered with the Chestnut Hill Library, which will provide most of the educational resources to be made available through Jenks’ portal via the Free Library of Philadelphia’s education database. In addition to students having access to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s portal for educational purposes, the Chestnut Hill Library will make sure that every Jenks student has a library card and the ability to access all of the reading materials being offered. In case a student doesn’t have access to the Internet, the library will make desktops and laptops available to the students for them to use in the Ignite program.
In addition, the Chestnut Hill Library will provide other resources that students can use to gain hours from participating in them. The library will offer students an opportunity to take part in its Lego Club, a reading with a local author, book discussions and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workshops.
“Once students start accessing the library through this program, and they get used to it, then during the school-year they’ll use the library as a resource as well, ” Lynskey said.
Other organizations participating in Jenks’ Ignite Program are the Franklin Institute, Chestnut Hill College, Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, the Academy of Natural Sciences, Lovett Library, the Chestnut Hill Community Association and the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center. These organizations will also offer hours and activities on Ignite’s calendar for students to complete as part of the program.
By getting local organizations involved, the program will enable students to go beyond the normal boundaries of the classroom and get hands-on experience needed to further their education, Lynskey said.
With each organization offering a specific field of study and expertise, together they form a learning foundation on which students, each with their own individual interests and passions, can find just what it is they want to learn about and see that it gets put into action. This experience, Lynskey said, is invaluable, and one of the reasons she wants to further diversify the partnerships she has within the community,
“Our plan is to get as many local organizations involved as we can – this is just the beginning,” she said.