By Amy Wight Chapman
This week the Telstar High School freshman class are in Washington D.C., spending several days touring the nation’s capital as the culmination of a study unit on exploration and discovery.
Telstar Principal Cheryl Lang and Dean of Students Kristin Dacko told the SAD 44 School Board at its last meeting that the unit has integrated learning across several academic disciplines, including history, government, science and literature.
Telstar Freshman Academy students have been guided by the search for answers to three major questions; Why do people explore and discover? How has exploration and discovery led to continuous learning? How do I explore and make new discoveries that lead to continuous learning?
Among the expected outcomes for students are to develop a sense of curiosity, to recognize connections between systems and how one system influences another, to realize the importance of clear communication and to learn how history impacts the present and the future.
Students have also been learning how to pose questions and solve problems using self-directed inquiry; to use technology effectively, appropriately and responsibly; to develop a connection with community; to understand the connection between exploration and discovery and perseverance.
This year’s freshman class is the second to participate in the Washington, D.C. trip. Like last year’s group, they will stay at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center in Chevy Chase, Md. where they receive a special rate for lodging because of TFA’s association with the 4-H program.
They will meet U.S. Sen. Angus King for blueberry cake at his office, take tours of national monuments and the Capitol, and visit several museums and the Library of Congress.
“At a lot of these sites, they’ve been able to secure specific activities with staff that link to their curriculum,” said THS Dean of Students Kristin Dacko.
THS Principal Cheryl Lang noted the effort that had gone into fundraising for the trip and thanked the donors who helped to supplement the amount allocated from the district budget.
They include the Bethel Rotary Club, Project Opportunity, the 4-H Foundation, GEAR UP Maine, Mahoosuc Kids, the Matterhorn Restaurant, the Sunday River Brew Pub and 22 Broad Street.
Each student’s family was also asked to contribute at least $50 toward the cost of the trip.
“It’s incredibly humbling to see everybody come together in support of our students, and we really recognize the value of that,” Lang said.
“Every year we continue to build our fundraising efforts so that we can have an ongoing capital fund to be able to support this trip for our future freshmen students.”
Greenwood School Board member Larry Merlino asked what happens to students who do not attend the trip.
Lang and Dacko said that although several students did not participate in last year’s trip, they hoped to have 100 percent attendance this year.
Lang two previous overnight trips this school year have gone well and have helped to prepare students for the expectations of the Washington, D.C. trip.
If there are students unable to join the class on the trip, they remain at Telstar with school staff and maintain regular communication with their peers and teachers through the use of Skype video chat technology.
The School Board’s Education Committee has recently seen a positive change in the failure rate at Telstar, said committee member Frank DelDuca of Bethel.
He wondered if the gain could be attributed to the success of the TFA program.
“[Students] are less likely to fail if they’re participating in overnight programs throughout the year, and all of this interaction and connection, DelDuca said.
“You have to do a lot of communication. A lot of energy is going into it. I would think that it should be very helpful with failure rates. Teachers have got to be connecting better with kids.”
“We are finding that, with the Freshman Academy in particular,” Lang said, “for some of the reasons that you mentioned, and also, that team aspect, with everybody coming together and providing a safety net for the students.”
DelDuca asked if it makes sense to do more of the kind of teaching that takes place at the TFA if it has been shown to engage students and help with the retention rate.
Lang agreed and said the development of a sophomore team had come in response to the need to “capitalize on some of the things that we know have really worked” for students in the TFA.
She said teachers and administrators are asking themselves, “What are some of the foundational pieces of their experience [in TFA] that we know we need to put in place for our other students as well?”
Superintendent David Murphy said the budget for the current school year includes funding to allow the sophomore class to participate in some type of culminating experience that will help them continue to build on the relationships they have formed with each other and their teachers.
“One of the great things about the TFA is that the kids work with everybody,” he said, rather than attending classes with just one group.
“By the time they come back as sophomores, they know everybody in their class.”
The students and their faculty chaperones departed for Washington, D.C Monday and return on Friday.