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Gainesville High students may get to create their own classes
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Gainesville High School students may soon be able to create their own classes.

The Gainesville City Schools board and Principal Chris Mance are talking about ways students can take independent studies classes and receive high school credit.

During Monday’s school board meeting, juniors Jacob McConnell and Isaac Hopkins presented two classes they developed last spring. Though school officials are still working through the logistics of how the classes will be implemented and supervised, they’re supportive of the ideas and hope to move forward this fall.

“We’re looking at the different ways to meet the needs of our students and how we can use the flexibility of seat time for students,” said Superintendent Merrianne Dyer. “This is done under the supervision of a gifted teacher but is open to all students, who can design their own coursework based on teaching standards.”

The class would count as exploratory credit. McConnell showed several presentations to the board about how he would develop a sports studies class.

“It has two major themes: examination of sports history and discussion of current sports, including off-field incidents and local sports,” he said, clicking through a PowerPoint presentation that outlined his curriculum ideas. “The student could do projects on teams and players, investigate records and examine who now is on track to break them.”

McConnell also showed two presentations he created to demonstrate a final project — one on the Boston Red Sox and one on Roberto Clemente.

“This course would be a new way of using important educational tools in learning and would be a fun but educational class,” he said. “Sports are one thing in society you can cling to, and they also help people get through the tough times, such as the World Cup this summer and the New Orleans Saints bringing their city back after Hurricane Katrina.”

McConnell made connections to math, graphing, research skills and reading standards.

“I don’t like to read, but I read the whole thing,” he said, holding up several books about sports statistics and sports history.

Connecting to reading standards, Hopkins discussed his idea of leading a literary discussion class, which would include creative writing and critiques with classmates.

“I write plays, poems and short stories, and I thought about a class where you can sit around and write together and feed off each other and read each other’s works,” he said. “It’s an environment where you could have that connection in education, not a dry, old textbook, but living the idea of learning.”

The underlying idea behind these independent studies is passion and enthusiasm, Hopkins noted.

“If students get excited about their education and start pursuing what they love and use that to find their happiness, they can be successful,” he said. “I have this particular interest. But others could try it out, and you never know, having this opportunity could be the first step in them finding that drive that makes them want to learn for the rest of their lives.”

McConnell and Hopkins developed their ideas last spring while in a math class taught by Lisa Sheehy, the new director of the nontraditional Wood’s Mill High School program. When she talked about the idea of tailoring classes to a student, they asked why they couldn’t do the same. She helped them to develop the courses they presented to the board.

“Three girls are now working on a philosophy class. They’re still figuring out if they want to highlight eight people or eight genres, and the final project would allow them to explore their own philosophies,” Sheehy said. “This is a way to open the door to kids and show them that we’ll try to help facilitate their ideas.”

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