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Rhodes School of Environmental Studies gets help from Facebook


If students thrive at the new Rhodes School of Environmental Studies, parents can give some of the credit to engineers at Facebook.

The school, which is set to open July 31 with ninth-graders, will mix instruction from teachers with work on the Summit Learning Platform.

Summit Public Schools, a network of charter schools in California and Washington state, developed the software with help from engineers at Facebook and support from company founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The program, which is free, provides curriculums for sixth through 12 grades in English, math, science and social studies, can be modified to meet state standards and comes with free training and mentoring from Summit. More than 100 schools in 27 states use the free program, which has no formal connection to Facebook.

“It’s a proven resource for teachers and students,” said Tara Drouhard, principal at the Rhodes School of Environmental Studies.

During the 2016-17 school year, the Fairview Park schools piloted Summit Learning in the sixth through ninth grades in English, math and other core subjects.

Fairview Park will expand the program to 10th grade in the coming year. Tests taken by students last year showed growth in reading and math, said Melanie M. Wightman, the district’s director of teaching and learning.

“So far, we’re pleased with what it has managed to accomplish very quickly,” she said.

The Rhodes School of Environmental Studies will emphasize working in groups on projects, thinking critically and solving real-world problems, Drouhard said. The school will adhere to the CMSD year-round calendar, alternating 10 weeks of instruction with three week breaks.

It joins a select group of CMSD high schools where students advance as they demonstrate mastery of standards. Summit Learning supports that strategy by enabling a student to work at his or her own pace, in school or away.

The District’s MC²STEM High School, which also uses a mastery or competency-based approach, will pilot Summit Learning with ninth-graders during the coming school year, Principal Feowyn Mackinnon said.

Students who use Summit Learning are responsible for learning content but are graded more heavily on how they apply their knowledge and skills. Teachers serve largely as mentors or facilitators but will control how much, or how little, time their classes work with technology.

“Kids are not going to be on the computer all the time every day,” Drouhard said. “It’s not meant to replace the teacher.”

Under The Cleveland Plan, a customized, state-approved blueprint for education reform in the city, CMSD operates as a “portfolio district” offering different school options to fit students’ individual interests and needs.

The Plan also calls for working closely with community partners and exposing students to college and careers.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo will serve as the school’s signature partner and help design electives that teach conservation leadership and advocacy. The zoo also will serve as a destination for field experiences.

The zoo has already worked with Great Lakes Biomimicry and the University of Akron to develop a course, Foundations of Inquiry, for the new school.

Foundations of Inquiry will emphasize research skills while weaving in biomimicry, a method that seeks to solve human problems by imitating nature. For example, studying how copying the shape of a kingfisher’s beak can reduce vehicle noise and improve fuel efficiency, or determining how a forest canopy can serve as model for filtering storm water.

Great Lakes Biomimicry has trained individual teachers to craft lessons but until now had not designed the “arc of an entire course,” said Torrey McMillan, the nonprofit’s director of education consortium and K-12 biomimicry programs. She said Great Lakes hopes to remain involved with the school.

“We very much want to be,” she said. “That’s an ongoing conversation.”

The Rhodes School of Environmental Studies still has openings for students. To enroll, call 216-838-3675.