Japanese educators learn what it takes to start project-based school at the Dream Academy
WILLMAR -- DREAM Technical Academy's approach to education is so valued by some of its students and their parents that many of them make 20- and 30-mile daily commutes to Willmar to attend the school.
WILLMAR - DREAM Technical Academy’s approach to education is so valued by some of its students and their parents that many of them make 20- and 30-mile daily commutes to Willmar to attend the school.
But until Thursday, no one had made the trip from as far away as Japan to learn what they could at the DREAM Technical Academy charter school on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar.
“It’s rare to see how schools actually start,’’ said Atsuko Glick, who served as the interpreter for the 11 visiting educators from Japan.
The visitors are interested in the project-based educational model employed by the DREAM Technical Academy. It’s the very same approach used by the New Country School in Henderson.
Many of the visiting Japanese educators have been visiting the Henderson school annually to learn about project-based education, and are interested in introducing it in their schools as well. When they learned about the newly formed DREAM Technical Academy in Willmar, they saw an opportunity to learn what it’s like to introduce the approach to students and parents.
“We’re the guinea pigs,’’ one of the local students laughingly told the guests as they toured the facility.
The visitors peppered the students with questions. They asked them about their education and, especially, what led them to leave their traditional schools for the opportunity to be part of the charter school.
Now in its second year, the Willmar school serves 105 students in grades 7 – 12. The project-based approach allows students to choose projects to undertake. The students set the expectations for what they should learn on any given project, but it is a public school, and they must master all of the educational outcomes required by the state in all of the disciplines.
Doug Knick, a professor in the education department at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, helped launch the school in Willmar. He told the visiting educators that the school offers the students an alternative way to learn.
In many cases, it was their parents who recognized that the traditional setting was not benefitting their children, and enrolled them in the school, he said.
As the guests would soon hear, the students had many of their own explanations for why they enrolled. Some wanted a more challenging environment. Others wanted out of traditional settings where they were bullied or felt stifled.
All of them wanted to talk about what lies ahead, and their aspirations to be everything from writers and artists to a neurosurgeon.
The Japanese educators came from all over the country, and represented a wide range of educational experiences. There were teachers, principals and college professors in the group.
They visited schools in the Boston area before arriving Wednesday in Minneapolis, which is serving as their base for visits to schools in Minnesota.
The Japanese government has strict control over the educational system in the country. Introducing the project-based model will be challenging in the public schools, but not so difficult in private schools, according to Glick. She said the visiting educators are looking at ways to incorporate it in their various locations, from kindergarten to college level classes.