• Feb. 14, 2020

    Elementary & high school students partner as lifelong learners 

    Lifelong Learner Project Don’t believe the old adage, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Students from Baker and Streams elementary schools recently completed a Lifelong Learner Project aimed at researching and learning a new skill.

    The project – introduced to third and fourth graders enrolled in the School-Wide Enrichment Program (SWEPII) for the first time this year – was created and led by enrichment resource teachers Barb Helmeci and Mary Quinn from Baker and Streams elementary, respectively. 

    “Research has always been a piece of SWEP II, but we felt that we needed to offer something more action-oriented and different than the traditional research report,” Mrs. Quinn said. “This led to the idea of what it means to be a lifelong learner – how do we learn something new?  What resources do we use?  What qualities do all learners possess?”

    Students selected something they wanted to learn that they had not done before. Projects included baking cookies, cake decorating, training a dog, throwing a football, making jewelry, creating a video game and more. In addition to conducting research, students were tasked with finding an “expert” that could be a resource or guide.

    “Students quickly realized that no matter what you want to do, there is a community of learners out there that is interested in the same thing,” Mrs. Quinn said. “It may be a digital community halfway around the world, or a class at the public library down the street.”

    The project also included a morning-long fieldtrip to Upper St. Clair High School.

    Lifelong Learner Project “It is my hope that elementary students see that intellectual curiosity is celebrated across the district. The natural excitement for learning new things is a value we hope to instill in students from their first day of kindergarten all the way until graduation,” Dr. Timothy Wagner, high school principal, said. “Ultimately, if a spark for learning can be sustained, and elementary students can see future versions of themselves in our high schoolers, we will perpetuate our mission of developing lifelong learners.”

    Elementary students had the opportunity to explore the resources available within the school’s library, visit educational spaces and teachers that corresponded to their subject, and talk with high school students who have some knowledge about the topics students were interested in learning.

    “The program was mutually beneficial,” Dr. Wagner said. “While elementary-aged children were the recipients of high school students' knowledge, the high schoolers had a chance to reflect on their own expertise, package information for younger learners and, ultimately, enjoy the satisfaction of conveying exciting information to motivated young people. High school students were already asking if they could participate again next year!”

    The goal of visiting the high school was threefold:

    • Elementary students were able to make connections with high school students as well as their peers from another elementary building to practice the “art” of face-to-face conversation with strangers;
    • They had an opportunity to identify a larger “community of learners” that share their excitement about a topic or skill.
    • Finally, students were given a preview of the wide array of offerings and resources that will be available to them in a few years when they become high school students. 

    “We wanted to make sure each student had a face-to-face connection with someone who also shared their interest,” Mrs. Quinn said. “Our SWEP II students were able to interview high school students to gather information as well as to get an idea of what resources high school students tap into for new learning.”

    The students’ research and experiences will culminate in a presentation that highlights the steps they took, documentation of their progress, valuable information they learned throughout the process and, most importantly, a demonstration of the newly learned skill. 

    “Students need to be lifelong learners because lifelong learners are active in growing themselves as individuals, and it is never too early to recognize this,” Mrs. Quinn said. “School will end eventually, but the love of learning that keeps an individual engaged and enthusiastic can continue...we model this for our kids, and hold up models of other adults who have kept growing and learning. Plus, learning new stuff is just plain fun.”

    To model the art of lifelong learning, Mrs. Helmeci is learning to play the ukulele with Baker kindergarten teacher Eric Weismann and music teacher Chris Hestwood serving as her experts. Mrs. Helmeci was recently able to share her progress at Baker Elementary’s winter concert.

    Mrs. Quinn’s project includes starting a neighborhood supper club. “We see lots of each other when the weather is good, but I wanted to find a fun and easy way to connect when it is not,” she said.

    For Dr. Wagner, his lifelong learner goal for 2020 is to re-commit to reading for pleasure with the goal of reading a new book each month.