Quincy school program takes students into community

Jan. 15—QUINCY — A program that focuses on using a student's interests to help them connect with school is having some success at Quincy Innovation Academy. How the "Big Picture Learning" program will work next year is still to be determined, since funding for some parts of the program comes from a state grant that's expiring.

Innovation Academy Principal Colleen Frerks told Quincy School Board members at the Jan. 9 meeting that 2023-24 is the first year for Big Picture Learning. It enrolls both middle school and high school students.

Students must meet state standards, but they also must demonstrate they've learned skills defined in six different areas that will help them in careers that interest them. As a result, their school day is different.

"Students have a little bit of time that is sort of traditional academics where they're getting instruction in math and reading," Frerks said. "But a big part of their day is an individualized learning program that they helped create with their advisor, where they make plans for how to learn and do activities and projects that will move them forward in all of those areas of competency."

Part of Big Picture Learning is going out into the community to learn about jobs students are interested in, and what education and training they need to pursue those careers. Frerks said that's called Leaving to Learn.

"Students do lots and lots of career exploration in that program, visiting local businesses and industries to find out how those careers fields work," she said.

Some students have internships at local businesses; Frerks cited a student who just received an internship with the Quincy Police Department.

"Pretty exciting that we're able to really connect their learning with what they want to do in the world," she said.

Big Picture Learning is supported, in part, by a grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The three-year "Mastery Based Learning" grant is part of a pilot project.

"They are trying to see what different kinds of alternative learning programs around the state are working for kids, and are helping kids find their way to reach graduation," she said.

Quincy received $50,000 the first year, $125,000 the second year and $110,000 the third year. Frerks said getting out into the community is a crucial part of the Big Picture Learning program.

The grant helps pay for transportation to get students where they need to go, whether it's to Quincy High School or Quincy Middle School for a class or classes, or to a business where the students have an internship or are doing some job-shadowing. It also helps pay for materials and teacher training.

The grant runs out after the 2023-24 school year.

"We are not sure yet whether the state will be able to offer a continuing Mastery Based Learning grant application opportunity, or if there might be another source of grant funding that could support the program," Frerks wrote in response to an email from the Columbia Basin Herald. "So at this time our funding plans moving forward for next school year have not been determined."

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at cschweizer@columbiabasnherald.com.