10/23/2013 8:20:00 AM Windom Area Schools
wins award for senior Achievement Project
When it began, the Eagle Achievement Senior Project was designed as a "crowning achievement" assignment for Windom Area High School's graduating seniors.
It has become much more.
Today, the Eagle Achievement Senior Project is a project that underclassmen are already looking forward to and a grand opportunity to connect students with the community while benefitting the city in which they live.
And it is for that reason the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) has selected the annual Windom Area Schools senior project as a recipient of the 2013 Profiles of Excellence Exemplary Program Award.
The program's developers and facilitators, English teachers Laura Alvstad and Eric Hanson and social studies teacher Bryan Joyce, will receive the award from MREA next month in Brainerd at MREA's awards banquet. The banquet is held in conjuction with its annual conference.
So, how was Windom's senior project selected?
A panel of judges from MREA looks for unique projects that benefit students, can be easily adapted by other school districts and demonstrates innovation, says Fred Nolan, MREA executive director.
"MREA looks to its rural school members to identify their best practices and self-nominate their accomplishments into this competition," Nolan explains. "Each year we recognize compelling school programs that serve as an example of innovative educational opportunities for rural students."
This is the fifth year of the Eagle Achievement Senior Project at Windom Area High School. The projects require seniors to choose a community issue, learn about it through several disciplines, meet with mentors - both school faculty and members of the community, depending on the project - then develop and complete a meaningful and practical experience.
"Eagle Achievement is unique because students get to research a problem in our community, examine its causes and effects, propose solutions to the problem and then act on one of those proposed solutions," says Alvstad.
The three-part project requires students to write a research paper documenting the cause and effect; apply the information by developing and completing a project demonstrating mastery of the topic; and then formally present their project to a judging panel of staff and community members.
Joyce likes the fact that students are learning more about issues in which they are interested, or had little knowledge of before they started their project.
"As they research into these issues more, they come up with more creative ways to address the issue," Joyce notes. "Every kid is different, so they find their own creative way to work on a lot of the same problems. And that's what's so fun - it's so individualized."
Students meet monthly with their mentor who encourages and counsels them on the project.
Last year's project titles included childhood obesity using the Fuel Up to Play 60 program; the arts resulting in creation of the senior mural in the senior hallway; and childhood hunger, which resulted in a school food drive.
Joyce says that after four years of implementing the project, he's seen two key developments.
"In the beginning we tried to take what we did, but model it after other schools. But now I would say it's more 'Windom.' We've really tried to make it for us. And I can say now that the project is pretty darn close to 100% 'Windom,' " Joyce explains.
"And, at this point, the way we're working with the community is improving every year. That's been the big catalyst, how the community has embraced what the students are doing."
Joyce especially likes the connection with the community.
"A lot of our mentors are people that the kids look up to and ask them to be their mentor because they have such a positive relationship with those people," Joyce says. "The more people who are positive influences on kids in our town, the better it is for the school and community."
Hanson adds that the Eagle Achievement project has also caught fire with students.
"When we first started this, the question from the students was, 'Are we going to do this next year?' " Hanson recalls. "That question is gone. Now we have sophomores talking about what their project is going to be."
Windom was not the only school to be honored by the MREA. St. James Schools also received an Exemplary Program Award, while Pipestone Area Schools and Pine River-Backus Schools each received honorable mention.