PHS faculty aims for more holistic and engaging education

photo by <span class="credit credit- "><a href="/credit/"Aaron/" title="View all of this person's work">"Aaron</a></span>  On March 19, Assistant Principal Jessica Baxter and Principal Gary Snyder spoke on the need to make learning more meaningful and fulfilling for both students and teachers.

photo by Aaron Wu
On March 19, Assistant Principal Jessica Baxter and Principal Gary Snyder spoke on the need to make learning more meaningful and fulfilling for both students and teachers.

The first PHS parent night of its kind was held on April 19 and was run by Principal Gary Snyder and Assistant Principal Jessica Baxter. During the presentation, Snyder discussed potential short-term and long-term adjustments that could be made to the school, which included a later start-time, a switch to block scheduling, and a mid-morning break.

Similarly, Baxter also explained how, partly as a reaction to the Stanford survey data, the administration is attempting to take a more holistic approach to education as a whole.

“The goal is not just changing the schedule. It’s changing the way we look at education: a different approach focusing on problem-based assessments, rather than traditional paper-and-pen assessments,” Baxter said.

Baxter also expressed that in the future, classes could be more interdisciplinary. This would teach students to transfer learning skills from one subject to another, in an attempt to depart from the method of “traditional education.”

Both Baxter and Snyder discussed the idea of “Just-in-Time Learning.” Students do not need to learn everything “just in case,” but rather as needed. To demonstrate the concept, Snyder made an analogy to how adolescents interact with video games today. They do not read the entire manual before starting, but instead look for information as needed.

“[Students] can just Google how to get past a next step [in a video game]. That’s what our kids are doing [in school], and as adults and educators, we have to adjust that. We’re acknowledging the fact that these kids are going to and should learn differently than we did,” Baxter said.

The administration’s broad goal is to introduce “deeper,” more experiential learning that increases student engagement. According to a board report released on April 20, the district’s goal is to further this type of learning while simultaneously reducing stress. The district aims to create a healthy student culture and redefine the meaning of success that inspires purposeful learning across the school district.

Among the entire community, the importance of administration communication with parents was a common thread. Snyder, in particular, stressed the significance of communication as the school goes through various changes with new ideas and experiments.

“The importance is engaging people in the dialogue. We’ve been trying to communicate [the PHS Bell Schedule Committee’s] conversations with the faculty, parents, [and] the students. The idea [is] to keep as many people involved in the dialogue and [in] the process as possible,” Snyder said.

Parents also agreed that communication and interactions between the school board and themselves were essential. Moreover, they stated that they were most grateful for the flow of information and the discussion that the survey results sparked.

“I think this is a good start. I believe that it’s good to have parents talk to one another, but the most important thing is that this discussion doesn’t end tonight and that there are opportunities for follow-ups,” said PHS parent Jennifer Jang. “This is clearly a big set of issues that needs a lot of discussion. I think parents really want to see that the administration is open to change and that we can all work together.”

Additionally, Patrick Sullivan, the head of the school board, emphasized the importance of finding solutions that can make an immediate impact.

“It’s fine if people give feedback, but it’s important that everybody understands what this data shows about the stress that our children are under and [that we] start talking about ways that we can change the environment now,” explained Sullivan. “I’m not so interested in what the school might be like in ten years, that’s beyond [our] time here.”

Across both parents and the administration, there was a willingness to create more PHS parent nights in the future. The district is looking to hold similar meetings at the elementary and middle schools according to the board report.

“I found the parent feedback valuable. It’s interesting to see what jumped out for different people [in the data], and then to see if there [were] common themes,” said Snyder. “Every once in a while, someone notices something different that causes people to go ‘Oh, I didn’t think of it that way, but that’s a good perspective.’ The more eyes we can get on it, the more feedback there is to help us to think about what the survey means.”

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