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East Hall High students engage in technology, collaboration
Blended learning environment deemed EPICC
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Blended Learning Academy students Chris Marchbanks, left, and Khian Skidmore talk about their video documentary project on students’ experiences with the creepy Internet theme known as "Slender Man." - photo by NAT GURLEY

The blended learning environment at East Hall High School can almost be described as a school for students, by students.

“The students create the name, the students create the vision, the students create the logo,” said John Hardison, one of the three lead teachers in this new program. “It’s just cool because of that classroom ownership.”

It’s so cool some may call it epic, which is exactly the new name of the academy — EPICC, or Endless Possibilities in Creativity and Collaboration.

“It’s more centered around the students in my opinion because it’s not all about test scores,” said junior Ross Stevens. “It’s about us finally getting to understand easier, and figuring out things on our own instead of having someone guide us in one direction.”

There is a lot of collaboration going on in the building next to the East Hall High gymnasium. Formerly a child day care, the building was renovated over the summer to house the students. It’s one large, open space with students congregating in small groups at various stations around the room.

Stevens said the collaborative environment allows students to help teach each other.

“We’re all kind of collaborating in a small group working on (a math quiz) together so we can hopefully understand it,” he said. “Some of us are having a hard time, and some of us have already done it so we know better.”

“We get to use everything, not just paper,” explained Sayra Camacho, a junior in the program. “We get to express ourselves more, and we get to know ourselves more and see how we think. We think outside the box.”

The sophomores and juniors in the program use the technology, including access to Google Drive accounts, to communicate with each other and their instructors. There are several computers, laptops and tablets available for use.

There’s a small recording studio for students to create music, and they are also preparing to begin work on a full-length movie.

“I feel like I’m getting the chances to create dreams that I’ve always had,” Stevens said. “I get to come in every morning and work in the recording studio, which is something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Right now, the classes taught at EPICC are Spanish, mathematics and literature. Two separate groups meet, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

“We feel like it’s going really, really well,” Hardison said. “We’ve probably got one, maybe two students right now who are kind of having a little bit of trouble just because they’re so used to the bell and the traditional rows (of desks) and all that ... but we’re working to transition them through that.”

He added there is still a component of traditional classroom structure, but it’s a more fluid environment to allow the students to be able to work on what they need to the most.

“One of my favorite anonymous quotes is ‘The difference between life and school is in school you’re taught a lesson and given a test,’” began Stevens. “‘In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.’ So I feel like that’s kind of what’s happening here.”

Hardison said the technology created a learning curve at the beginning of the school year, but now he feels the students and instructors are in their respective grooves.

“It’s a different way to learn,” Hardison added. “So you’re learning how to learn again.”

The students explained how a seemingly more relaxed classroom environment allows for greater learning opportunities, and even how it translates to life after high school.

“Every time you go to a job or something, they always ask what can you do more than just what everyone else has,” Camacho said. “So we’re learning other things that other people aren’t. The technology we’re learning (is) different.

“I feel like it’s more work, but it doesn’t feel like work,” she added. “I know I’m learning things.”

“It’s funny how this is the longest class of the day, but yet it’s the one that flies by the fastest,” said sophomore Cassida Shockley. “It’s fun, and it’s not like you’re really working. You’re just learning.”

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