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Orchard STEM School recognized by Apple

Nov. 20, 2018: Orchard STEM School has become one of just 400 schools worldwide and the only PreK-8 in Ohio to be recognized by Apple for innovative use of technology in education.

The list of Apple Distinguished Schools – a circle joined by invitation only -- includes colleges and universities. Apple describes the schools as “centers of leadership and educational excellence.”

Step inside Orchard and tech’s impact is impossible to miss – all 460 students have access to an Apple iPad tablet, provided under the White House's ConnectEd initiative two years ago. Distinguished Schools are required to have that one-to-one ratio.

Move from classroom to classroom and see students engaged with their iPads, accessing information that stretches way beyond what can be found in a single textbook.  Teachers act as facilitators as students research and answer questions with creativity – for example, by producing video clips to illustrate the definition of a word. The children develop digital portfolios that parents can monitor in real time.

Orchard’s hands-on strategy also encourages trial and error. Principal Kathryn Francis said the combination helps rivet attention and make lessons stick.

“What learning looks like here is not typical, and our kids thrive on that,” she said. “They are getting an opportunity to play with content. Play is fun.”

Orchard’s most recent report card shows room for improvement. But the school’s performance index, a composite of all test scores, increased in each of the last two years. Just under 95 percent of third-graders met Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee – 11 points higher than the District average – and earned promotion to fourth grade.

Students already code. Soon, they may begin developing apps and engaging in “augmented reality,” placing virtual elements, maybe even themselves, into the real world.

Via Skype, students see and communicate with children in other states and countries.

Recently, teacher Kathleen “Kitty” Merk’s sixth-graders talked with students from a girls’ school in Ontario, Canada, fellow members of a global book club. They discussed stories of refugees from Nazi Germany, Castro’s Cuba, and Syria.

At first, the students did not know where either group went to school, including what country – they had to guess. Merk’s students systematically narrowed the possibilities: Are you in North America? Canada? Are you south of Alberta? Do you have an NBA team? Yes? OK, it’s Ontario.

A sixth-grader named Grace and another, Jasmine, said they prefer this style of learning to lecture format. Using technology makes research easier, they said.

“You don’t have to stare at paper,” Jasmine said. “It’s visual.”

Merk joined Orchard about the time the Apple grant was announced, and suddenly, the now 27-year teacher felt like a rookie again. She grew nervous at the thought of such a drastic change; she lost sleep, she could not eat.

The adjustment did not take long. She let a bunch of tech-savvy kids show her how to use the tools and was enlightened.

“The possibilities are endless,” Merk said. “My kids can communicate all over the world. We can take a concept farther than ever before.”

• Nov. 20, 2018: Students from MC²STEM High School weathered snow and cold Tuesday as they moved about Public Square setting up their holiday gifts to the community.

About 70 juniors and seniors designed, painted and built 27 displays for the city’s annual Winterfest celebration in engineering class. The igloos, penguins, polar bears and snowflakes, made in an MC²STEM Fab Lab, stand about 4 to 6 feet high.

Under the guidance of engineering teacher Phil Bucur, the students cut the pieces with computer numerical control machinery and by hand. From design to installation, the work took more than a month to complete.

“I wanted to do something for Cleveland before I go to college,” said student project manager Stacey Kowalski, a senior who will study zoology at Central State University. “It was a great experience.”

The work was performed mostly in class, but senior Antonio Vázquez, another project manager, said he put in some time after school and during a break. He said he feels proud knowing that carloads of people will take in the displays as part of a Cleveland holiday ritual.

“I’m happy to claim that MC²STEM did all of this,” said Antonio, who will attend Cuyahoga Community College and study to be a mechanic.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of MC²STEM, which is believed to be the only high school in the country with classrooms embedded at a Fortune 500 company – GE Lighting. The year-round project-based school conducts ninth-grade classes at the Great Lakes Science Center, 10th-grade classes at GE’s Nela Park campus and 11th- and 12th-grade classes at Cleveland State University.

GE provides lighting for Winterfest. For several years, the company has enlisted MC²STEM students to contribute holiday decorations for Public Square or the famous Nela Park display.

“This is by far the biggest engagement,” Andrea Vullo, GE’s manager of public affairs, said as she watched the installation Tuesday. “I knew it would be cool.”

Copyright © 1989 to 2018 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 11/27/18 10:53:29 -0800.




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