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Project-based learning

Chain students focus on research

By Angie Landsverk

Students at Waupaca’s Chain Exploration Center explored a subject in numerous ways.

Through skits, songs, cooking and more they demonstrated what they learned.

“It’s really impressive to see how the students find their knowledge in a variety of ways,” said Mary Kaye Ristow, one of the school’s advisers.

That is what the school’s teachers are called, and Ristow is one of three of them.

The other two advisers are Holly Olsen and Catherine Seifert.

“They’re called ‘advisers’ because the students are supposed to be leading the learning, said Rhonda Hare.

She is the principal of Chain Exploration Center (CEC) and Chain O’ Lakes Elementary School.

CEC is Waupaca’s new charter school, and it is located in Chain O’ Lakes Elementary.

It is a multiage, project-based school.

This school year, it has third through fifth graders.

On Thursday, Oct. 4, the advisers helped the students showcase their work during the CEC’s first open house.

Hare said the first project was a guided one.

“They gave them the idea, and then they picked which aspect they wanted to study,” she said of the advisers and students.

The aspects included where it is best to plant apples, how to care for them and also how to harvest the apples.

Committees of students had to do research.

That involved interviewing resources.

For example, students went to Christensen’s Orchard, in rural Waupaca.

Their research included learning what it takes to start an apple orchard, and they started one at the school.

The orchard has nine apple trees in it.

Hare said Silver Mist Garden Center donated its planting services.

Last week’s open house began with the planting of the ninth tree.

The school got the trees through the Trees for Threes program.

American Transmission Company partnered with the Milwaukee Bucks to donate trees to eligible schools in its service area that applied for the program.

Inside the school, the students then presented the work of their different committees.

There are 58 students in the school, and Hare said they work in mixed grade groups.

On Jan. 1, enrollment opens for the 2019-20 school year.

“We will add one grade below and and one grade above,” Hare said.

That means there will be second through sixth grades in the school next school year.

“We’ll do that each year until its K-8,” she said.

CEC will be a K-8 charter school in the 2021-22 school year.

Hare said each student has a personalized learning plan.

“They have to track their progress through the standards,” she said. “Some fifth graders are approaching seventh-grade standards due to the nature of their personalized learning plans.”

The school’s morning schedule is a more traditional one, with the students working on the same standards in subjects such as reading and math.

After their lunch recess, the students go to a remodeled space that was previously two classrooms.

They do mindfulness before spending the afternoon project-based learning.

Some students might be interviewing people.

Others may be preparing for presentations.

It is an unstructured time.

Sara Zoeller’s 9-year-old daughter, Izzy, is among the students in Chain Exploration Center.

“I have one in CEC and two at the Chain School,” Zoeller said of her children. “I just wanted her (Izzy) to be involved in project-based learning where she has control over her educational path.”

Izzy said she likes the school’s schedule.

“For math, I get to go to a different classroom,” she said. “I just like coming here.”

Hare heard students asking each other during lunch about what projects they are doing next.

They did not know she heard them.

“That makes me happy,” she said.

Olsen said they prepared for the open house.

“There was a lot excitement and enthusiasm from the advisers and the kids,” she said.

Ristow said, “I love how they feel they have to use technology in their projects.”

With 20 acres on the campus, there are more plans on the horizon.

The community garden is moving there from Waupaca High School.

“It’s already staked out,” Hare said. “We also have lake frontage and received a grant to purchase kayaks. The students will be able to do lake studies.”

She said there are also hopes for a barn with animals and plans to start a string orchestra next school year.

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