EDUCATION KEY TO SUCCESS OF FLORIDA’S SOLAR-POWERED TOWN
28 June 2021 |
Project-based curriculum empowers the workforce of tomorrow
Babcock Ranch, Fla. – Today’s workforce must continually evolve to meet ever-changing challenges. While a growing number of schools around the country are embracing Project-Based-Learning (PBL) curriculums to better equip middle and high school students to prepare the agile workforce of tomorrow, only one is recognized as a Certified PBL Demonstration Site for all grades K-12.
Babcock Neighborhood School (BNS), located at the heart of the nation’s first solar-powered town of Babcock Ranch, is a public charter school where hands-on learning combines with a Green-STEAM curriculum to hone critical thinking skills.
“We want to breed that innovation mindset that you’re never done learning and, if we’re going to solve big world problems, you’ve got to have a skill set to do that,” said BNS Principal Shannon Treece. “Project-based learning equips each child with the problem-solving skills and the power of knowledge they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.”
As a public charter school, BNS has more flexibility to innovate than traditional public schools, but it is held to the same accountability standards. From the day the school first opened its doors in 2017, it has embraced project-based learning as means of making learning fun, engaging, rigorous and collaborative. Students and parents saw an immediate difference.
“Project-based learning is transformational,” said Leah Campbell, whose son and daughter started BNS three years ago when they were in the 5th and 6th grade. “Instead of just memorizing a textbook, they’re making the connection to real-world challenges. And that is where everything suddenly clicks. It makes sense. And it’s fun. They’re using their math and science skills to design solar cars and print 3d prototypes, to build and race aquatic robots, to imagine what it would take for humans to survive on Mars. Whenever school is out, they can’t wait to go back. That never happened before.”
The initial BNS school building opened in the fall of 2017 at full capacity with 156 students in grades K-6. The school moved into its current building in the fall of 2018, with enrollment more than doubling in to 338 students in K-7. BNS has added another grade, and more than 100 new students each year since. The school building is expanding again to accommodate 626 students in grades K-10 next fall. Construction of a state-of-the-art high school facility is underway and projected to open for the 2022-23 school year.
The community of Babcock Ranch has embraced the mission and unique vision of BNS and its emphasis on using the country’s first solar-powered town as a classroom. The GreenSTEAM approach expands upon STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to include art and environmental education. Many of the PBL assignments explore the local landscape, history and culture while engaging and connecting students to the town’s natural environment, sustainable building practices and conservation initiatives that promote nature, health and renewable energy.
“Good schools are the foundation of every great hometown, and the outstanding reputation that Babcock Ranch has earned as one of the most forward-thinking communities in the world is due in large part to the success of our school system,” said Syd Kitson, the founder of Babcock Ranch. “BNS is helping to foster the next generation of innovators and leaders while developing a more potent workforce for tomorrow.”
BNS recently learned that it has also been accepted into the Cambridge AICE program which delivers high rigor academics along with a lot of hands-on experiences.
“The Cambridge AICE designation requires a vigorous application process and a site visit for vetting of the current work of teachers and students in the classroom,” Treece said. “While we initially applied only for AICE designation for the high school, they determined that we meet the qualifications for all grade levels K-12.”
Implementation of the Cambridge program will come in stages, beginning with integration into some of the high school courses next fall as well as the K-8 social studies curriculum.