Saturdays at Western Reserve Academy have been just another class day for a long time, but a new approach is coming this fall that will provide another point of distinction for the historic school.
This fall, WRA will launch Saturday Academy, a seminar and module-based program that supports the transformational experience of a WRA education through academic ECHO modules and yearlong class seminars.
“This is a reaffirmation of the goals and characteristics we have tested and valued at WRA for generations,” said Head of School Christopher Burner ’80. “As a residential school, we have always held classes on Saturday and we are recommitting the entire school – faculty, staff and students – to meaningful learning experiences on Saturday that also allows flexibility to meet the many other activities scheduled on Saturday.
“Saturday Academy will create innovative opportunities for expansive educational goals, including interdisciplinary studies, extended classes and collaborative experiences that extend, enrich and support student learning in a way that would not be possible in the traditional Monday-through-Friday schedule.”
The foundation for Saturday Academy was put in place and will be overseen by a faculty steering committee that includes Dean of Faculty Kate Mueller, Dean of Studies & Student Life Justin Zimmerman, Mathematics Department Chair Joe DiBiase, Michael Bonomo, Sherry Chlysta, Chris Davies, Alan Doe, Jeffrey Namiotka and English Department Chair Michael Morris.
Students will enroll in two ECHO modules each academic year, during a six-week trimester that aligns with the fall, winter and spring athletic seasons. Students can discover a new passion or pursue an area of academic aptitude in depth. The offerings will be diverse, reflecting the broad interests and expertise of WRA’s talented faculty.
“Each ECHO module will meet for two-and-a-half hours on Saturdays,” Zimmerman said. “Teachers can develop a unique course that is purposeful and exciting, and they will have the lengthened class time to engage in more experiential learning.”
ECHO topics fall into four categories: math and science; communication and technology; humanities and arts; and citizenship and global studies. Students need to take at least one module in each category over the course of their WRA career, with courses being graded as honors pass, pass or fail.
Students have 55 modules to choose from, including such topics as Electing the President 2012, From the Classroom to the Boardroom: A Case Study Approach to Understanding the World of Business, Forensic Science Technology, An Investigation into Sociology: Examining Childhood Behaviors, Race and Gender Relationships, Introduction to Computer Programming, Elementary Russian Conversation, Topics in Philosophy and Probability and Statistics: Hands-on.
“The grading structure is exciting because it will allow the students to focus on learning for the sake of learning, which makes the material the focus rather than the grade,” Davies said. “Our students can take an academic risk that they may not normally take. Saturday Academy will give students two-and-a-half hours to deeply engage in one topic, without sacrificing their ability to take the same course load they could previously.”
Mueller noted that faculty also will benefit from the program.
“It is exciting for our faculty members, because they can develop and expand on topics that are outside the traditional course curriculum,” she said. “Dr. Beth Pethel, for example, teaches biology all year, but she now will have the opportunity to teach microbiology, her specialty.
“The faculty members are enthusiastic about this program because it will open doors for them to explore new topics and reach students in a different way.
Davies is looking forward to the opportunity to create a course from scratch.
“As a teacher, it is exciting to create and teach a brand new elective,” he said. “The ECHO modules open up a whole avenue of things that I am knowledgeable and passionate about that I can share with my students.
“We can teach things that are too specific for a good yearlong course, so Saturday Academy will provide a student the opportunity to take eight or 12 courses that may not have worked before.”
The Monday-through-Friday schedule is also being revised to allow for greater flexibility in meeting students’ diverse academic needs. The schedule features one extended period per week for each academic subject, creating opportunities for intensive academic inquiry. On most days, classes will begin at 8:30 a.m. to better align with teenage sleeping patterns.
“All core classes will meet Monday through Friday, and we believe this will strengthen our core curriculum,” Mueller said. “We also believe this satisfies our students request for more independent study and electives. It creates the best of both worlds, with core courses in the Monday to Friday schedule, and a different type of learning experience on Saturday.”
With the core curriculum contained to weekdays, student-athletes will now feel less of an impact if they have to travel to athletic events on the weekends.
“We will attempt to schedule the ECHO modules for each student in a way that minimizes athletic conflicts,” Zimmerman said. “For example, cross country runners will likely not enroll in trimester one because meets are typically on Saturday mornings.
“The more we talked about changing our schedule, something that Head of School Burner asked us to do to support the Strategic Plan, the more we realized we needed to improve our schedule flexibility and take into account the learning needs of adolescents.”
Saturday Academy will also include seminars organized and themed by class. Freshmen will focus on health issues, sophomores will examine their responsibilities as community members, juniors will focus on the college placement process, and seniors will explore global issues. Seminars are interspersed on Saturdays throughout the academic year and support the ECHO module meetings.
“These required seminars focus on developmentally appropriate topics that are important for students to consider,” Mueller said. “The topics will help students grow as they progress from focusing on themselves as freshmen to looking at global issues during their senior year."
The ECHO modules and class seminars are another area where WRA is working to set itself apart in the world of independent schools.
“This is a new, innovative and interesting area,” Mueller said. “It encompasses a lot of the academic goals that we have while still embracing the traditions of the school. This enhances our core curriculum and lets the faculty and students work at their strengths and passions, and that blend is what’s exciting about the program. This is a point of distinction for us.”
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