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Putnam school board gets presentation on new Buffalo school

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- At the new Buffalo High School, a part of the New Tech Network of schools, students and teachers focus on project-based learning.

 They make models of a rollercoaster instead of just talking about them, design books instead of just reading from them.

Administrators, faculty and students from the new school were at the Putnam County Board of Education meeting Monday to show off what they'd done in their first semester in the $20 million school.

Principal Richard Grim touted the flexibility in the curriculum. Students still cover the objectives that their peers do in traditional schools, but they do it in creative ways designed to highlight a skill's practical implications.

"The traditional way of teaching is not engaging students, but there was nothing we could do before," Grim said. "This is the first year we've been able to do it."

Students and faculty from the school showed videos of students in joint discipline classes, doing hands-on work.

To study anatomy and physiology they worked with professionals from West Virginia Water, trying to find solutions to common safety problems. To study trigonometry, physics and chemistry, they built models of rollercoasters and calculated their velocity and trig functions.

In a digital communications class, students had nine days to make a popular culture magazine.

During one presentation -- a video by a student for a joint class in English and art history -- the crowd was especially moved. The video featured a student reading a poem about a young person preparing to go off to war, and a tribute to American troops overseas. When the national anthem was sung onscreen, William Legg, president of the board, took to his feet in honor. The rest of the room followed.

Counselor Michelle Johnson reported that they've had fewer D's and F's in this last semester than she'd ever seen at Buffalo High School.

"And before students would use any excuse to come sit in my office and cry all day," she said. "Now they want to get back to class to work on a specific project."

Jim Phares, the new state superintendent, was at the meeting as part of his recent efforts to meet with school boards across the state. He praised Buffalo's efforts and said he'd like to see more schools like it.

"What they've found is they can cover so much more this way," Phares said. "It's just a mindset we need to encourage."

Phares also took questions from the board, and talked about his desire to see the state loosen its grip on the school calendar, ceding those decisions to each county's school board.

"We have a firm belief in autonomy for local boards," he said. "We believe you have the best sense to design your own schedules for yourself."

The Putnam County Board of Education will  next meet March 4 at its main office in Winfield. All meetings are open to the public.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886.


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