Richmond Public Schools is taking on a new initiative of ‘theme-based learning’ where every middle and high school will offer specialty classes for students.
After holding nearly 200 community meetings, it was clear to school officials that some RPS students are not motivated to learn in the classroom. The district is hoping to put the interest back into learning by giving kids options that pique their interest.
“When we went to the test-based academia, that’s when things changed,” RPS parent Latisha Washington said.
RPS currently owns the lowest graduation rate in Virginia; one-half of the schools are not accredited and only about 35% of third graders are able to read on the benchmark level.
Washington, whose daughter attends Lucille Brown Middle School, told 8News she keeps her daughter motivated by introducing her to subjects and activities that grab her interest. She believes test-based learning affects kids in the classroom.
“That has taken the interest out because if you know when you get to class that you’re learning from social studies section two, if that’s all you have to look forward to, where is the fun? Where is the interaction? where is the fun?” Washington explained.
RPS is hoping to change that narrative.
“If we do not change, we will continue to get the results we have always gotten,” RPS Chief Academic Officer Tracy Epp said.
Epp is a key player in the ‘Passion4Learning’ initiative. Over the next five years, RPS’ seven middle schools and five high schools will slowly transition into ‘themed’ schools.
The options are stem, visual and performing arts, languages and international affairs, law, policy and public service, and career and technical education.
“There is nothing broken about our children here in Richmond,” Epp said. “Our children are full of incredible talents and we have to give them the opportunity and expose to unlock those talents.”
Each school will have more in-depth classes tailored to a specific theme. For example, if a student was attend a stem school, they may take specialized classes like cyber-security, coding, or data analysis.
The initiative will also include partnerships with community organizations, allowing students to get more hands-on learning.
Up first, Henderson and Martin Luther King middle schools, which will both become ‘stem academies’ in the Fall of 2021.
“The numbers, reality and data don’t lie,” Epp said. “We need our schools to be more engaging and challenging and to prepare our students better for the future.”
RPS has an open enrollment policy, so students will be able to select which school they would like to attend.
RPS budgeted $25 million over the next five years to hire new teachers, renovate schools and provide more resources. Want to get involved? RPS plans to help several community meetings in the New Year.
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