Project-based learning program comes to Cedar Rapids Community School District

Roosevelt Middle School eighth-graders to take charge

Three teachers are preparing to venture into new educational territory with 90 students.

This fall will mark the debut of The Roosevelt Option, a project-based learning program for eighth-graders at Roosevelt Middle School in the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Principal Autumn Pino, who helped design the framework, said it’s not a pilot but a “prototype.”

“Students will be in a flexible learning area where they will have access to the resources and technology needed to help them gain knowledge through community-based projects,” reads the informational document which went home with students in May to notify families about The Roosevelt Option.

In short: 90 Roosevelt eighth-graders will eschew the traditional class schedule to work with three teachers and learn core subjects — such math and science — through completing individual and group projects that will benefit the community. There is no cost to be involved.

“This program provides our teachers the opportunity to take the students where they are and move them,” Pino said. “For all of us, it’s about empowerment.”

The Roosevelt Option shares DNA with Iowa BIG, which now is a partnership between the Cedar Rapids and College Community school districts to allow high-schoolers the chance to earn elective credit through projects aligned with their interests. (The Gazette’s parent, The Gazette Company, is a financial sponsor of Iowa BIG.)

“Project-based learning is a natural platform for discussions centered around each student and his or her connection to the world in which they live,” Pino wrote in an email, stressing the importance of family involvement and support for those involved in The Roosevelt Option. “ I hope that this program is the right venue to unlock the innovation, creativity, and critical thinking skills that our students possess — never underestimate the power of a middle-schooler.”

Cedar Rapids Associate Superintendent Trace Pickering said the idea for a middle school project-based learning initiative arose from conversations between himself, Pino and middle-school instructors.

“We believe this is going to reignite a passion for school in the kids who have drifted away and it’s going to open up a whole new world for students at the higher end,” Pickering said.

According to Iowa Department of Education data, 38.9 percent of Roosevelt students identify as non-white and 67.6 qualify to receive free or reduced-price lunches. Pickering and Pino said reflecting that diversity in The Roosevelt Option’s enrollment, which is “first come, first served” but staff members are doing outreach to students, is a goal. As of June 2, Pino said the 73 applications and 9 or 10 inquiries are in line with the school’s makeup as the application periods winds down.

“It has to represent the demographic,” Pickering said. “Otherwise it’s invalid.”

Jessica Vasquez, Adam Cole and Lindsay Micek will be the three instructors working with the 90 eighth-graders, who will spend the first five class periods of each day together instead of changing rooms with the bells like their peers.

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