Belfry “class trip” heads to San Francisco

Photo by Eleanor Guerrero Belfry students and teachers prepare for their trip to California for alternative learning, as Superintendent Olson (left) observes.

 

 
What better idea for bringing back the class trip experience than bringing the whole high school? That was the brainstorm of Belfry Schools Superintendent and teacher, Jason Olson. 
 
Sixteen students along with all seven teachers including Olson, will head out to San Francisco, Calif., Feb. 16 for an alternative learning experience. The concept was something that he experienced as a child and it changed his whole outlook on learning.
 
“When I was a kid, PEAK went to the ocean.” PEAK is a set of performance modules and the title stands for Performance Excellence For All Kids. “We stayed a week at Santa Cruz. One course involved the California rainforest and West coast wildlife. I was in the 6th grade. It was the best field trip I’d ever been on in my life. It was where I learned the most.”
 
Olson was referring to his school experience under Peak Learning Systems. The company spent over 40 years researching and developing the PEAK (Performance Excellence for All Kids) Teaching for Excellence Model™ getting the input of many teachers, trainers, counselors and other experts. PEAK states its purpose is to “ensure that learning is meaningful, practical and immediately usable.” It is Olson’s intent to recreate his experience by simulating a more comprehensive learning experience for Belfry students. 
 
“How many times have I heard a student say, ‘Why do I need to learn…slope formula?’ I would explain, ‘You use it in construction, in determining roof pitch.’ I want them to make that connection to the real world,” he explained.” Olson said keeping students engaged is the key to students staying in the system and continuing to want to learn. 
 
 
“This trip will involve students in many direct levels of experience. They will learn through various means and prepare their own teaching units. Upon their return, the students will then teach what they have learned to the third and fourth grades,” he said with great enthusiasm. 
 
“I had such a PEAK experience,” recalled Olson. “It was about the ocean-tidal pools and marine mammals. The kids will experience something similar.” They will also tour Alcatraz with a specialist with the purpose of gaining a level of expertise about the premises themselves. 
 
“It will be broad enough to fit students’ own formulas,” he said of the assignment. “There will be 25 different artifacts or categories required (for their teaching methods).” The students can pick from many options such as power point, dioramas, creative writing, soundtracks, trivia games, maps, math, crossword puzzles and songs. 
 
Upon their return, there will be a dinner where all of the units the students prepared will be exhibited. 
 
The project stresses individual learning at their own pace, collaboration, and raises self-esteem. A student doesn’t have to be taught “at” but sees he can learn in many ways. “That’s how teaching should be,” muses Olson. “…touching a sea anemone.” 
 
Extraordinary experiences the students are looking forward to include trips to the Academy of Science in Monterey Bay, riding trolley cars in the city, visiting Chinatown and the Wharf, touring the island of Alcatraz, farmer’s markets, whale watching, viewing elephant seals and traveling up to see the redwoods. They will return on February 23rd. 
 
Olson stressed the trip would not have happened without the whole community’s support. “What’s neat about Belfry,” he reflected, “it’s the perfect combination of community support and school board support. They took a gamble and trusted us to do it. The board kicked it in. There’s no way this could have happened with one person. The teachers helped by coming up with the teaching rubric. 
 
The students are: Brandon Howlett, Cody Kercheval, Gus Dines, Chris Moore, David Prather, Katelyn Collingwood, Bryce Dines, Garrett Kercheval, Tia McJunkin, Darian Burkhardt, Mariah Kapor, Sam Gilmore and Samuel Kuntz. The teachers are: Scott Felchle, Christi Kohley, Kelsie Zitzer, Melissa Boeck, Analea Hronek and Jessie Dines. 
 
When asked the logistics of booking the whole crew he laughed. “That was the exciting thing. If there was a hiccup the teachers jumped in and ironed it out. That’s why it wouldn’t have otherwise worked.”
 
Olson said the kids were overwhelmed at first. Now, they’re really excited. Olson led the way to the classroom and gathered all the students for a picture. When asked, “Who has never been to the ocean?” a number said they had but one said, “I haven’t.” She said she was looking forward to seeing it. Another volunteered, “I’ve never been on a plane!” Obviously, excitement was building. 
 
As someone who originally came from Nevada, Olson said it was epic seeing the ocean and redwoods. He lived inland in California in a small logging town where his mother, a Doctor of Psychology, was an educational director. The trip to the shore opened a whole new world to him and taught him about many different ways to enjoy learning. He hopes the trip will have that same mind-opening effect on Belfry students.