New Humanities Program

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As seen in the January 2017 Chalk Talk parent newsletter.

Three years ago, Deer Creek Middle School added a STEM program to their core program based on interest from parents and students. However, there were always questions from parents and students about the difference between Core and STEM. While trying to define those differences, Deer Creek decided that it would be beneficial to move the Core program toward a more defined experience for students that complemented the STEM program. From that, the Humanities program was born.

“A focus on literature and social studies was an obvious contrast to STEM, so we spent the last year developing a Humanities program that both supported the Jeffco 2020 Vision and created a little different learning experience for students,” explained Principal Rob Hoover.

The Humanities program “uses the lens of human culture and experience to help students understand and redefine the connections between past, present, and future.” Students are challenged to take what they learn in the classroom and connect it to themselves, their community, and the world. This is done through “Connections Projects,” which are integrated across subject areas and push students to dig deeper into topics utilizing inquiry, creativity, independence, and perseverance.

The program doesn’t officially begin until the 2017-18 school year, but current seventh grade teachers and students have been piloting a Connections Project this year. The team of teachers worked together to pick an area of focus that could be linked to all content areas, and ultimately chose World War II. Approaching the learning in this way, with a theme across subjects, provided a new challenge to the teachers, as well.

“There was a lot of teamwork among the teachers. Planning was a challenge at first, but it’s been awesome,” said veteran science teacher Lori Saueracker.

What makes the Humanities program different is how teachers and students approach each subject. In math, for example, students explore how people in the world use math. In relating the course work to World War II, teacher Hilary Westerkamp had her students study coding and how math was used to calculate the trajectory of bombs. Then, they learned how that math has transformed since World War II. Learning math from this perspective has been particularly beneficial to seventh-grader Brooklyn Montoya.

“I used to struggle with math, but this program has changed my world,” she said.

Additionally, the program incorporates service-learning projects and provides students Honors opportunities. The service-learning projects help students connect themselves to their school, their community, and beyond. Students are organized into teams with a teacher to serve as an advisor students can go to and discuss ideas and receive guidance for their projects.

“Kids are excited to show their learning in ways they aren’t used to,” said seventh-grade language arts teacher Jennifer Perry.

“It’s been fun to see kids connecting to each other and with each other through their projects,” added Saueracker.

Although the Honors opportunities are not honors courses, they provide students the opportunity to take their learning to a high level. Students are given the choice to elevate their project to an advanced level if they are particularly interested in a certain subject. These opportunities are not in addition to regular coursework, but are an advanced option to learn more than base curriculum. The opportunities are offered throughout the year, any time, and on any subject – it’s all up to the student. For example, seventh-grader Jilian Saunders wanted to improve her writing skills, so she took advantage of the Honors opportunity in social studies.

Saunders, who recently moved from Georgia, said, “I felt behind there, but I feel ahead at Deer Creek now, thanks to the Humanities program. The teachers make it fun.”

The teachers are having fun, too, and have really enjoyed seeing how the program is positively impacting their students, like Jilian.

“We just guide them in how to display their knowledge,” added Westerkamp. “We give the kids just a little bit, but they go find so much more.”

Click here for more information about the Humanities program.

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