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Opening a New World: A Student's Perspective on Next Generation Learning

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Following is a post from a student guest blogger from the Kenton County Public Schools. Grayson Duncan is an 11th grade scholar at the Biomedical Science Academy (Kenton County Academies of Innovation and Technology).

There are many things which, in my opinion, have made the Academies program a success. It has succeeded in making students want to go to school. It has succeeded in creating a hospitable learning environment. It has succeeded in giving us skills that will be applicable in our futures.

It's no secret that one of the reasons students don't entirely hate going to school is because it is a time that they can see their friends. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I had only one friend who was joining my Academy, and, as fate would have it, he wasn't in my class. So - being rather "antisocial" and surrounded by strangers - I fully anticipated doing work for several hours without ever opening my mouth. By the end of the year, however, I had made many new friends from different schools, many of whom returned this year. I could collaborate with them during group work, idly chatting during monotonous tasks, and still make progress. Talking in class is something that many high school teachers despise, but in the Academies it isn't even an issue.

Originally, we were holding class in rooms generously provided by Gateway Community College; moving to our own building later. At that time, on the way through the front door, the teachers would (and still do) greet us every day. While we wait for the other schools to arrive, they'll talk to us about school, or really whatever we'd talk about otherwise - they're almost like friends or family. It shows in the classroom, too. The teachers all seem to want to answer any questions we may have, and do so in a way that not only helps us solve the problem, but also informs us how to solve more in the future.

The real shining jewel of the Academies, however, is the way in which classes are taught. Everything is very much focused around collaboration and presentation. We are often encouraged to speak up in class to either ask, answer, or elaborate based on what's been said. There are many opportunities where we, the students, take a place at the helm of the room and explain a math problem, present our findings on some research, or do something of the like. These smaller instances as well as the end-of-the-year projects - a several month long activity in which (at the Biomedical Sciences Academy) students design an experiment, actually do it, then display their findings to a panel of medical professionals/judges - all condition the students to be able to speak clearly and loudly in front of groups, along with gaining other traits of a good public speaker. Aside from speech skills, we also develop the ability to use technology such as the real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction Machine (rtPCR, for short) and Gel Electrophoresis equipment.

Though I was at first skeptical of the potential of the Academies program, it has proven beyond a doubt that its creation was for the better, and I wish that every high school student could have this experience, if not for the change of environment, then at least for the worthwhile skills.

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