Editor’s Note: Olympic High School began offering a Journalism elective to students for the first time this year. The following news and op-ed pieces were produced by three students from the class and are printed here as part of a partnership with the Daily Press. 

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) is getting ready to launch a new project-based learning center for the 2019-2020 school year, which will be located on the campus of Olympic High School. The importance of project-based learning is becoming more prominent because of the effectiveness of the curriculum. The way project-based learning works is that the students work on completing a hands on project that ties in with the curriculum. Project-based learning implements real life situations into curriculum and helps students relate to their education by actively involving them as participants in their learning.

According to a report by SMMUSD, 95-100% of kids who participate in project-based learning are accepted into two and four year colleges. Furthermore, 78% of students take college courses using dual enrollment with Santa Monica College when they are enrolled in project-based learning in high school. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Mathematics) curriculum will be a part of the students’ day; moreover, LTI (Learning Through Interest) curriculum will be introduced to students. The utilization of the aforementioned curricular programs will increase student buy-in by catering to individualized areas of interest. Furthermore, every day students will have an advisory class where students will be working on both college and career planning and social emotional learning. Students will also have the opportunity to take language and athletics classes at Santa Monica High School.

Anthony Fuller, Principal at Olympic High School, says he is excited for the 2019-2020 future. Conversely, some students and faculty are worried that the new project-based learning center will adversely affect students. Fuller states, “At least in the short term, it won’t affect Olympic students out right, mostly because the first class for the project-based learning high school is a freshman class and, of course, Olympic and both the Off-Campus Learning Center (OCLC) and the Independent Study Program (ISP), two other programs that have historically been housed on the Olympic campus, generally take in kids that are juniors and seniors. Occasionally, sophomores are admitted to these programs, but the vast majority of students in attendance are upperclassmen.  However, concerning the year after [2020-2021] and as the school continues to grow, it is certainly the hope of the teachers on this campus that some of our students will join the project-based learning high school at least for part of their day depending on what that looks like.”

Ms. Deborah Siemer, School Leadership Team Member, Social Science, & Math Educator at Olympic H.S., said she understands the motivation but is worried about the impact of a new school. She said Olympic already houses multiple education programs.

“The addition of a new program will undoubtedly restrict these programs, opportunities, and services provided to our at-risk student population; however, I fully understand the district move towards 21st Century Schools and interest based learning opportunities.”

She said she is open minded but also concerned.

“Historically the district has marginalized and compromised the facilities for Olympic High School and its students. I doubt that any other school has been relocated as many times as Olympic High School has in the past decades, three times that I can personally remember, for the sole purpose of the district and its need for space. It is my opinion that this encroachment and disregard for SMMUSD students would never happen at any other school.”

She said the district should work towards improving education for everyone.

“I would like to see advocacy and programs better aligned to current student needs, not all students and student groups thrive as is. Let’s work to better support the struggling learners and those at-risk for not graduating to meet these 21st Century Learning goals.  Let’s provide a needs analysis for current student populations whose voice and advocacy may be systematically silenced.  Let’s improve the systems and structures we have in place. Can this be done alongside the Project Based Learning School, absolutely.  But please, let’s not forget nor forgo the current needs of all students within our school district.”

When asked how will this new project-based learning school could potentially change the school environment, Lucy Govers, a student of the Off-Campus Learning Center program on the Olympic H.S. campus., stated, “The school [Olympic] is small compared to high schools like Santa Monica High School, so everyone here feels a lot more comfortable and focused. I think when this new program comes onto the campus and brings in more kids, the environment will be more distracting…people will feel more stressed.”

by Juan Lopez

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