• author
    • Kathleen Brotherton

      Columnist/Youth Editor
    • October 1, 2015 in Columnists

    The revolution in education – Innovation Lab Project based learning

    Joey front and center in the black tshirt with his Innovation Lab classmates

    Joey front and center in the black t-shirt with his Innovation Lab classmates

    I’ll never forget the feeling in my pit of my stomach as my son Joseph’s fourth grade teacher reviewed his report card during a parent/teacher conference.

    “I can’t teach motivation. That is not a part of the curriculum. It’s simple. Joey is lazy.”

    I could write a book on the path and struggles of my middle child to get through his education. Fighting for testing, intervention, the language barrier of educational accommodations, the steep hill that has to be climbed to get services put into place. Special educational services are locked in the Pandora’s box of local government politics with little to no control in the hands of the educators where it belongs.

    The ninth grade was the worst year to date. Gone was the first quarter of decent grades that crashed into failure as the year moved on. Joey was completely overwhelmed with high school from day one. His brain refused to allow him to remain engaged, to process and meet the demands of a traditional high school education. He could not absorb the information from the pages of a book or a lecture given as his teachers paced back and forth in front of a white board. The services in place were not keeping his head above water. He was failing. Not only was my son failing, it was blatantly evident he was giving up trying to battle his own brain. ADHD was putting out the light of my child’s will to learn.

    There are days we will always remember. Days in our lives that are so significant that they become turning points. One of these days happened for Joey when he found a new program that was starting at Greenwich High School – the Innovation Lab. I saw the light return to his eyes as he excitedly explained the program to me.

    “I can learn like this Mom, This will work for my brain! Please Mom, don’t be mad. I already applied but I need you to sign. Please let me try this, Mom!”

    Joey acknowledged his strengths and weaknesses as a student. He sought out finding his own solution to create his educational success.

    I immediately started researching this modern miracle that instilled an excitement in my child for school and learning.  He was on fire to try this program. I began scouring the internet for any and all information on the Innovation Lab model, then called the program, getting Brian Wallach, who is a part of the STEM team of Innovation Lab. Mr. Wallach patiently listened to all of my questions and concerns. He assured me that there could be a successful collaboration between Innovation Lab and special education services. I started sharing my son’s enthusiasm, coupled with such a great feeling of hope for my son’s possibilities.

    To quote the GHS Innovation Lab website:

    “The GHS Innovation Lab is a flexible and personalized learning environment devoted to fostering creativity, curiosity, and purpose. Teachers blend core disciplines in a project-based approach, allowing students to explore their interests and harness their innovative potential. Students are encouraged to discover their passions and are supported as they make an impact in the community at large.”

    The Greenwich High School Innovation Lab, which was funded with a grant provided by the Greenwich Alliance for Education, is comprised of the team of six teachers. Michael Belanger, Courtney Hawes, Christina Shaw head up the Humanities section of the program, while Sarah Goldin, Brian Walach, and Dana Schlosser head up the STEM program portion of Innovation Lab.

    These are superhero's in our house. GHS Innovation Lab team. www.ghsinnovationlab.com

    These are superheroes in our house. www.ghsinnovationlab.com

    This program is, of course, not exclusive to Greenwich, Connecticut. It is spreading across the nation as Innovation Lab type programs are popping up from elementary schools to Ivy League colleges as prestigious as Harvard University. Harvard is using project based learning in their Entrepreneurship program. This program is spreading because it works. It breaks down the barriers that traditional learning models create, opening up the possibility of success to all types of students.

    As for my Joey, the lowest grade he has received thus far this year is a B+. Every day he is excited, enthusiastic and, most importantly, connected to his ability to learn. I am confidant and highly optimistic that for the remainder of his high school under the tutelage of the GHS Innovation Lab team, my son is going to have an exemplary high school experience.

    Proof positive this educational model works!

    Proof positive this educational model works!

    That fourth grade teacher insisted she could not teach motivation to my son. Seven years later, the GHS Innovation Lab handed my son the tools to instill his own motivation.

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