Middle-schoolers envision Better Beekmantown
Shania Rose has not yet graduated from Beekmantown Middle School, but she already knows a thing or two about running a business.
“My main responsibility is to guide my employees in the right direction and make sure they are doing their job,” the eighth-grader and CEO of Global Teen Enterprises told the Press-Republican.
The fictitious company is one of several created by students as part of a project-based learning experience at BCSD that combined English, science, technology, math and social-studies classes for a two-week project.
“Project-based learning is about breaking down those walls and showing that we’re always learning all the time, and there’s things that go on in all of these disciplines that overlap and interact,” Beekmantown Middle School Principal Amy Campbell told the Press-Republican.
After BCSD educators saw the model in action during a visit to Pine Grove Middle School in the East Syracuse-Minoa Central School District, they decided to give it a try with a group of their own eighth-grade teachers and students, who have come to collectively call themselves Team Summit.
The participating educators met over the summer to organize the project, looking at all the standards for each of their respective subject areas and making sure to incorporate all of them.
“We came up with the idea of building a better Beekmantown,” said social-studies teacher Sarah Vagi.
Students were divided into groups of about 10 that were each charged with selecting one of two properties near the school to repurpose in a way that would benefit the entire community.
“They had to take into account zoning laws, the environmental impact, the proximity of the public school here and the need to appeal to a large number of residents,” Vagi said.
“They had to keep in mind the physical and financial constraints.”
APPLIED FOR ‘JOBS’
Experts in fields related to the project were also brought in to speak with the students.
Among them were real-estate agents, graphic designers, chief financial officers, energy engineers and CEOs.
Paul Grasso, president and CEO of the Development Corporation and a strong supporter of project-based learning, met with the groups on multiple occasions, providing insight into his profession, answering numerous questions and doing his best to enthuse them.
Each group of students established its own company, and members were required to apply for a job within that company.
Mackenzie Dubay, for example, was hired as the graphic designer for Global Teen Enterprises, which decided to repurpose the former Klondike Bar at 6989 Route 22 in West Chazy.
“We chose this one because it was bigger and a cheaper place to buy,” she said.
“The other property was the two warehouses that are right behind the Beekmantown School.
“We didn’t want that one because it was right next to the school and it wouldn’t be enough room for us to expand and add outdoor accessories.”
Rose and Dubay’s group proposed transforming its chosen property into Little Eagles Daycare, designed to accommodate the child-care needs of district residents, as well as BCSD teachers with young children.
“The plan is for the children to do many activities together to help them learn how to develop a growth mindset,” Dubay said.
“A person with a growth mindset is a person who is prepared to extend their intelligence; they aren’t fixed on this one thought that their intelligence level cannot grow.”
Because the project incorporated the core subject areas, with teachers working as a team, students were able to work on it for five periods a day, changing classrooms just once.
“It’s neat to see the bell ring, and kids don’t leave,” said English teacher Anthony Perez. “It’s like they don’t even hear the bell; they’re so on task with what they’re doing.”
“They’re able to use their time so much more effectively,” added technology teacher Seth Spoor.
‘JUST COULDN’T QUIT’
As the project progressed, Grasso noted, he observed the teachers taking more and more of a backseat and the students tackling tasks themselves.
“There was a lot of growth,” he said.
Also stressed were the importance of interacting with others in a respectful manner and working with a team to solve problems.
“This showed me that I won’t always know or like the people I’m chosen to work with, but I have to be polite and work collaboratively with them, so we can be successful with our jobs,” Dubay said.
“During the whole project, I learned many, many character traits, including some that are life traits you basically need to know, such as grit, zest, gratitude and most of all, social skills,” Rose said.
“I learned leadership skills that will help me from today to when I’m 60.”
Still, she noted, “I have to admit there were points where I wanted to give up and quit but I remembered if I was older and this was an actual job I relied on for money — I couldn’t just quit.”
All of the hard work culminated with an evening event for the community, when each group presented its project, complete with 3-D models of their visions.
In addition to Little Eagles Daycare, the groups’ proposed uses for the properties included restaurants, fitness centers, an arcade and a sporting-goods store.
“I was amazed by how the projects turned out,” Grasso said. “I think they did a marvelous job.”
During the event, he added, one parent told him, “‘I had to come tonight because this is the only thing my son talks about at home.’”
By Ashleigh Livingston, Press-Republican, December 15, 2015