Sonoma Charter School debuts new learning program

Sonoma Charter School is implementing a new educational program for the 2023-24 school year that focuses on outdoor educational experiences, project-based learning, service learning and career exploration, the school announced.

The Discovery Learning Program is being offered to the school’s 55 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. In addition to developing students’ core academic skills, the program aims to enhance life skills through hands-on, real-world experiences, school officials said.

Sonoma Charter School Principal Hilary Sowers — along with middle school teachers Raegen Hedley, Jason Page and Becky Perkins — said they developed the new program over the past year.

“I had a conversation with our middle school staff about introducing a program that would foster collaboration, critical thinking, a growth mindset and social emotional skills,” Sowers said. “They were very interested in the idea, and they agreed that these are important skills that will help prepare our students for the future.

“Then we considered different instructional programs, along with the vision of our charter, and we decided on a model that we felt would meet these goals and be beneficial to our students.”

Perkins, a seventh grade teacher, said that middle school students are at a critical point in their development, where connection and engagement in their education is extremely important.

“The Discovery Learning Program has been designed to be an immersive and an interactive curriculum to support their intellectual, social and emotional growth to set them up for success academically and in their personal lives,” she said in a news release. “I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues to develop this unique and enriching program, and am excited to implement it this school year.”

Sowers said that students will set personal goals and reflect on their growth throughout the year.

“The challenges that they participate in will strengthen their ability to work collaboratively, think creatively and problem-solve collectively,” she said.

Outdoor educational experiences

“As with all of the students at Sonoma Charter School, our middle school students will participate in field trips each year,” Sowers said. “These field trips will enhance the learning experiences that occur on our campus.”

In addition to day trips, the school’s middle school students have an overnight field trip each year. This trip will include hands-on learning adventures and opportunities for students to develop leadership skills.

“These trips will also strengthen the students’ sense of community within and beyond our own school community,” Sowers said, adding that this fall, the seventh- and eighth-grade students will be attending a multiday environment education field trip.

Project-based learning

“Students will be involved in progress-based learning that integrates content standards from different subject areas and encourages students to have voice and choice in their learning,” Sowers said.

Middle school students will write, produce and perform plays that incorporate content that they learn in social studies and science classes. Eighth graders will design and build catapults that relate to both social studies and science content standards.

Service learning

The students will participate in a “design thinking” project in the service learning component of the program.

“Through the design thinking process, the students will work to address an actual need in our community,” Sowers said. “They will conduct empathy interviews with the stakeholders, analyze the responses that they receive, research possible solutions, create prototypes and then present their prototypes to the same stakeholders.”

Career exploration

Students will research careers that interest them, interview adults about their careers and interact with guest speakers who will discuss their careers. The students may even spend time visiting different professionals in the community to learn more about the work they do.

“In addition, students will start to understand how to create resumes and participate in mock job interviews,” Sowers said.

At the end of the school year, students in the Discovery Learning Program will give a presentation that highlights what they have learned academically, about themselves and about working with others. The goal is to help them realize their true capabilities and to increase their confidence.

Sowers said that the strong sense of community that exists across grade levels and schoolwide has prepared the school’s students for the community engagement and collective decision-making that they will participate in as part of the Discovery Learning Program.

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