29 Nov 2021 00:00:00 AM Breaking News
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#RethinkSchool: Rural District Embraces the 3 E’s to Advance Student-centered Vision

Superintendent Kirk Koennecke smiles as he recounts how his rural school district’s connection with the Lean Six Sigma business process began, as a way to offer new learning options and provide marketable skills for students.  When courses in this well-known enterprise improvement approach were offered locally, no adults signed up.  But students did – and educators at Graham Local Schools saw an opening.

School leaders seized on Lean Six Sigma training as a way to help more students gain recognized tools for the world of work. Interest has grown, and this year, every junior is scheduled to receive a Lean Six Sigma Yellow Belt designation through their standard business electives. Seniors from Graham High School now have the option to graduate with Green Belt certification, in addition to their diploma.

The Lean Six Sigma program is just one example of the innovation Graham Local Schools has implemented. The district offers a 21st century learning lab for students, and provides place-based, work-based and service learning experiences on and off campus. Teachers are encouraged to employ flexible spaces, changing the configuration of the classroom to adapt the learning environment to the learning.

“Success Today, Prepared for Tomorrow”

“Success today, prepared for tomorrow.” That student-centered vision drives this innovative rural education partnership in Saint Paris, Ohio.  Overall, the district serves 2,000 students in a primarily agriculture-based community of some 3,600 residents, with a handful of dedicated community, manufacturing and business partners.

The ultimate goal is for all students to chart a clear pathway to the postsecondary options and careers of their choice – what the district calls the 3 E’s of enlistment, enrollment or employment – become responsible citizens and continuous learners, and build fulfilling lives.

Gaining Real World Experience

A picture of two high school students standing in a room discussing their Lean Six Sigma project. There is a large flat screen TV with the words "Lean Six Sigma" in white letters on a dark screen between them. Both students are male and wearing slacks, a collared shirt and sportcoat. The one on the left, who has black hair, is wearing khaki slacks, a light blue shirt and a navy blue jacket. The student on the right, who has brown hair, is wearing black slacks, a white shirt and a plum-colored jacket.An important part of the experience for Graham’s students is place-based learning. Graham collaborates with over 30 community organizations and businesses to provide a host of opportunities for students to apply their skills in age-appropriate real-world contexts – from career days and job shadowing to internships and apprenticeships.

Students’ experiences deepen as they advance toward graduation, with added opportunities to build their skills and explore their postsecondary options through the Career Gears program, which continues the focus on personalized instruction and on learning beyond the daily schedule.  For students in grades 7-12, the STEAM program enables students to earn college credit in career clusters such as Aviation, Biomedical, Info Tech, Pre-Engineering, Logistics, Robotics and Agribusiness.

Given the region’s rich history and base in agriculture, it’s not surprising that Graham has a thriving ag-based career-technical student organization – FFA.  What is surprising is that the club’s high-school members manage over 22 acres of commercial, sustainable farmland – named Falcon Farms after the school mascot — as well as a dry creek bed for ecological projects. The school also supports an outdoor learning lab, with trails and a variety of ecosystems, including a prairie area and retention pond, as well as a greenhouse.

A photo of a middle school student crouched in front of a table containing a structure he built, pulling marbles out of a red plastic cup that is sitting next to a Dr. Pepper can. There are several adults in the room in the background, some of whom are watching him. Some are looking at other projects displayed in the room. The structure is set upon a flat piece of cardboard on top of a short teal-colored table. It is made of white plastic tubing with black tape at all of the joints. The structure supports tubes and chutes for the marbles to travel down and through.Hands-on learning happens indoors as well as outdoors. Seniors in the high school business program manage “The Daily Grind,” a self-sustaining coffee shop for students and staff.  Proceeds are reinvested in the business, as well as helping to fund extra-curricular clubs and charities.

For students whose plans include college, a number of new offerings and additional supports are underway, from an early college high school program that will allow students to earn more college credits – including, for some, an Associate’s degree – by the time they graduate from high school, to plans by Clark State Community College to add bachelor’s degree programs to their offerings, to micro-grants that will assist students attending nearby Franklin University in purchasing textbooks.

A single blog post is not nearly enough room to describe the vast range of innovation and creativity on display in Graham Local Schools. Their efforts demonstrate that size is no barrier to rethinking school.

If this district in a small community in rural Ohio can do so much, why can’t more schools rethink school?


Note: This is a post in our #RethinkSchool series. The series features innovative schools and stories from students, parents and educators highlighting efforts across the United States to rethink school. Check back on Thursdays for new posts in the series. The #RethinkSchool series presents examples of approaches schools, educators, families and others are using to rethink school in their individual and unique circumstances. Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. The Department of Education does not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy.