(Photo of STAR Academy students at Opelousas Junior High by Freddie Herpin)
BOBBY ARDOIN Editor/Consulting Writer
You won’t find any traditional desks in the STAR Academy classrooms at Opelousas Junior High or teachers delivering lectures to their students.
What you will discover instead, says OJHS eighth-grade student Mabree Kautz, are students that are motivated and working in small groups to solve hands-on problems presented by their instructor-facilitators.
Kautz and some of her classmates were present at the school Monday morning to describe their learning experiences as part of the STAR Academy project that is funneling $2 million in state grant money to help the District accelerate student performance at the school.
“It’s so exciting. You get to sit where we want and work each time with a different person and socially interact with them. It makes you want to come to school,” Kautz said as she guided a group of visitors through several of the eight classrooms that are part of the Academy program at OJHS.
Instead of textbooks, the STAR Academy pupils use computers to work on problem-solving groups.
In one of the eighth-grade science classrooms students were creating toothpaste from a sodium component. On the other side of the room, goldfish swam in an aquarium, while the nearby students were focused on computer-directed lessons.
School principal Chad Lemelle said that 156 seventh and eighth grade OJHS students are involved in the STAR Academy program.
Before being designated as a potential student, Lemelle said each of them was carefully vetted.
“We looked at the (state performance) scores and (students) diagnostic tests at the end of the year. Based on that information, we selected candidates for the Academy. The eighth graders we chose have been showing a lot of progress. We had to move some of the seventh graders around,” Lemelle added.
Several months into the initial year of the STAR Academy, Lemelle said he is encouraged with what he has seen.
“The kids are exposed to learning by working on projects and our teachers are more like facilitators. From the feedback I’m getting the kids who are in the program really love it,” Lemelle added.
During the summer, the STAR classrooms were converted for the divergent learning style. Students are seated at tables and have access to headphones which are connected to their computers.
STAR Academy subjects include science, math, English-Language Arts and social studies.
One of the objectives of classroom learning associated with the STAR classrooms is using real-world situations that can be experienced by the students.
In a social studies classroom facilitated by Georgia Edwards, students were examining aspects of the Lewis & Clark expedition of the then unexplored Northwest Territory. Students were being asked to define the purpose of the journey and its impact.
During a May presentation to School Board members, STAR Academy account executive Keith Brown said the District was identified by State Education Department officials as one which qualified for possible academic performance assistance.
On Monday Brown said the OJHS personnel participating in the STAR Academy spent three days in New Orleans undergoing training. The facilitators are assisted on a regular basis by Charone Babineaux.