MIDDLE SCHOOL LEADS THE WAY

pltwRed Bank Middle School teacher Elizabeth Willoughby oversees students doing research in a new program called Project Lead the Way. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Reading from a textbook and writing down answers on a test are all well and good, but at Red Bank Middle School, they’re just two ways to acquaint students hands-on with concepts in math, science and more.

That’s where Project Lead the Way, a national initiative to spark “ingenuity, creativity and innovation” within students, comes in.

“It’s really trying to mold and influence this generation and fill a gap that’s been left in America,” said Chris Ippolito, one of two teachers involved in the program. “This is like a supplement to math, science, engineering, et cetera.”

The middle school is one of a few in New Jersey chosen to implement the program, which focuses on real-life scenarios and has students work together, through projects, to find solutions to problems. During a recent class, Ippolito spent a few minutes at a whiteboard writing down more than a dozen suggestions from students on how to make the school more environmentally friendly, as part of a national challenge to solve a problem in the community or school, superintendent Laura Morana said.

Most of the time in the classroom was spent on the computer, with students researching ways to implement their ideas.

“It’s amazing. They’re so involved,” Ippolito said.

Morana said the program has re-energized students, while also putting the school in closer alignment with Red Bank Regional, which is also associated with Project Lead the Way.

“As they go into the high school, they are so much better prepared than they were before,” she said.

The trick, however, is to maintain funding. It’s currently funded through various grants, Morana said, but eventually it may be built into the school budget.

“This kind of curriculum, that will be the norm,” she said. “It’s not going away. It’s just the beginning.”