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Real-World Learning Experiences at The Downtown School

Downtown 1By Sarah Armas

The Downtown School

OCTOBER 18, 2021 - Students of The Downtown School have been participating in bi-weekly enrichment clusters this quarter. Enrichment clusters are interest-based, student-driven, real-world learning experiences in which students apply advanced content and methods to develop products and services for authentic audiences.

Enrichment clusters are part of The Downtown School’s school-wide enrichment model and are implemented in every grade, K-8, at DTS. Even the youngest students have been participating in clusters studying animals, rocks and repurposing materials!

Older elementary school students are participating in clusters examining topics such as fiber arts, puppeteering, photography, and chess! Middle school clusters are exploring topics such as wellness, art, making videos and entrepreneurship.

Earlier this month, the Downtown Middle School “Nature Nurturers” cluster visited a local coffee shop, Moji Coffee + More, to interview staff about eating local. During the visit to this business, four students interviewed a staff member with a list of prepared questions.

Downtown 2After the interview, the group then created a presentation to share with DTS faculty and students to help share what they learned about eating local and the benefits this brings to people and their communities. The DTS middle school photography cluster members, Emmalyne Parnitzke and Samantha Wilkins, documented the visit.

Early on in the quarter, the Nature Nurturer students decided they would like to learn more about eating local and farm to table. Students brainstormed local restaurants in the downtown area and came up with the idea to interview restaurant staff at these restaurants to further educate themselves on the topic.

Eighth-grade students, Kumi Anderson, Daisy Jessup, Manuela Ariza and Kamya Evans interviewed Dan Wellman, Job Coach at Moji to learn more. These students contacted the coffee shop to set up a time for an interview and developed questions about benefits and struggles of having a local restaurant and how eating local could be better for the environment.

When asked about her experience, eighth-grade student, Daisy Jessup shared, “We enjoyed being able to take control over what we wanted to do with our enrichment cluster and interview people on our own. I think having that sense of leadership and being able to take responsibility for what we did was a good experience.”

Downtown 3Seventh grade students, Kelly Brown, Kaleigha Stoltz, and Fernanda Irtubide interviewed DTS Principal Andy Lester- Niles while visiting Moji on the same day. This group of students in Nature Nurturers are also interested in the concept of eating local and their questions targeted information regarding our own DTS cafeteria, how to incorporate the DTS greenhouse into this idea and other questions regarding local eating establishments that Mr. Lester-Niles could answer.

They also interviewed a DTS parent, Katie Engelhaupt, from New Garden Landscaping and Nursery, who offered suggestions for re-energizing the DTS greenhouse as well as volunteering to help with a related club opportunity.

Students Kaleigha Stoltz and Kelly Brown shared that this experience furthered their interest in creating a Greenhouse Club to grow plants in the greenhouse on the roof of the middle school.

“We really want to get the elementary students involved,” shared Kaleigha Stoltz. “We developed a survey to ask the elementary students what they would like to see grown in the greenhouse.”

Kelly Brown explained, “The greenhouse is heated. So we could literally grow anything year round!”

Photography Enrichment Cluster students, Emmalyne Parnitzke and Samantha Wilkins enjoyed taking photos of the visit to Moji. Students are eager to choose enrichment clusters for the second quarter.