SDPC officials explore ways to enhance learning opportunities
By Greg Oliver
EASLEY — A pilot program for some Pickens County middle school students to take part in career and technology opportunities is being offered during the upcoming school year.
School district superintendent Danny Merck said Liberty Middle School students will take part.
“The pilot will involve Liberty Middle School students taking courses at Liberty Middle School, the (Pickens County) Career and Technology Center and Liberty High School,” Merck said. “We are out of space at the CTC, so we are attempting to create more options.”
While hopeful this could lead to expanding future opportunities for that age group, the superintendent said, “Unfortunately, we do not have enough opportunities related to career and technology education for middle schoolers in most of public education.”
“We hope to offer more classes at Liberty High School related to career and technology education, which will eventually be open to other students in the district,” he said.
Merck said eighth graders last spring, who are now rising ninth graders, were able to enroll for a summer program at the career center when the district was marketing the program.
School board chairman Brian Swords is an ardent supporter of the district’s effort to expand learning opportunities at the career center.
“We have seen great success in our summer career center programs that allow our rising ninth and 10th graders to explore a career field while also earning a unit of high school credit over the summer,” Swords said.
Swords said his son was in one of those classes this summer and it “changed his perspective on the career center.” He said his son now plans to pursue a career in law enforcement as a result of the summer program.
“We fully intend to continue that program and even expand it this coming summer and are exploring ways to expand the use of the center by looking at non-traditional times such as evenings and weekends,” he said. “We’re also looking closely at some of our other facilities within the school district to see if we can increase capacity due to us currently having a waiting list for our career and technology center programs.”
Merck said problem-based and project-based learning are becoming increasingly important for students moving into the future.
“Kids learn by working a lot and through real-world application, working with their hands and combining that with the standards and doing it through what I call ‘deep learning,’ where you get into a topic or an area or problem or something they can relate to in everyday life,” Merck said. “We have this great technology now, so we’re trying to combine the soft skills of going outside and playing with each other and getting along with these new innovations in technology and blending that with what is good teaching and a good learning environment.”
School officials have also seen positive results from virtual learning.
“Some teachers really love it, and the students and the parents aren’t being forced into it, but it creates all kinds of opportunities, because some kids learn better this way and even form positive relationships by connecting with the teacher virtually,” Merck said. “Five or 10 years ago, we would have never thought this, but it’s obviously changing and changing quicker than we expected, because students are signing up for these options and it’s going to continue to grow.”
He added the district is also working with the Pickens County YMCA, teaching second graders in seven of the 14 elementary schools this coming school year how to swim and expanding it to all 14 the following year. At Hands on Learning at Holly Springs, all fifth graders in the district have an opportunity to take part in loom, dancing, woodworking and other skills.
While Merck isn’t saying one opportunity is better than another, he is pleased the district is offering more chances for students to learn.
“I think that’s what we should do — provide the best environment — because kids learn differently, teachers teach differently and we’re trying to give as many ways to display how they learn and teach,” he said. “Obviously, we need to do more hands-on with kids, but the board must understand that’s not a test score, but it is a life skill and life ready, and it’s providing a different culture.”
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