Read an article about our new educational model for next year which was published on May 27, 2014 on the NWI.com website. The article is printed below. Here is a link to the original.
CHICAGO | St. Francis de Sales High School will celebrate its 75th graduating class -- and with that milestone comes major changes to the school's academic model.
St. Francis began to offer high school courses before the turn of the 20th century, but wasn't strictly a four-year high school in the fall of 1937. Before that, it served students of all ages. The first official graduating class received diplomas in 1939.
The school's vice president of advancement and mission Janet Cobb was brought on in November. Cobb said she's worked with 14 Catholic schools in three different countries.
She's used that experience to help St. Francis de Sales modernize its system of education.
"It's not secret that our enrollment is dwindling," Cobb said. "We needed to change our product."
St. Francis will operate under a project-based learning model. Project-based learning, according to the Buck Institute for Education, is a method in which students learn by working for an "extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem or challenge."
"From the day they walk in the door, we want (students) looking toward college and career," Cobb said.
Not everything will be project-based, though. St. Francis de Sales will offer what Cobb calls a "blended education," mixing lectures and classwork with virtual learning in computer labs. But there will be more direct discussion and students will be able to move at their own pace.
There will be a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM classes and the humanities.
Students will be mentored by a staff member who will be assigned no more than 10 students. Mentors will go over a student's portfolio and discuss grades and homework. Mentors can also offer advice on study skills and ask if students need extra help or materials.
Counselors will still be available, but the mentor system is superior, Cobb said.
"Students will meet with mentors once or twice a week, where they might see a counselor only once a semester or once a quarter," Cobb said.
A typical day for a junior student could see him or her open with an open exercise gym and breakfast, followed by U.S. history and American literature. Students would then go to a 20-minute physical education period, which is new for St. Francis, followed by an academic enhancement period that could include electives like sociology or theology or writing, math or language labs.
The entire school will be on a single lunch period. After lunch, a student might take chemistry and then algebra or trigonometry. There will also be a period in the second half of the day where a student can meet with mentors and another academic enhancement period.
The school day will be expanded by 35 minutes.
A new world language program, offering multiple foreign tongues, will also be started. Spanish is the only foreign language currently offered at the school. St. Francis is exploring using Rosetta Stone but hasn't yet decided how students will learn other languages.
"We're hoping to find a program that works for a wide variety," Cobb said. "We may introduce (the world language program) in tiers."
Some of these changes will require new teachers. St. Francis is currently looking for new staff, but isn't necessarily expanding its payroll. Cobb said some teachers aren't comfortable with the technological requirements of the new system and will be looking elsewhere.
St. Francis de Sales is inviting the community to an open house June 29 to learn more about the changes.