For two hours on Wednesdays in April and May, the classrooms at Centre School District are buzzing with a “passion” for learning.
The Passion Project is a new initiative that gets Centre students and teachers working on topics of personal interest without having to worry about grades.
“When that time comes, kids are excited and ready to go,” Centre principal Donald Raymer said. “That’s a very positive thing. The excitement builds.”
While students don’t receive grades, they will make presentations in front of classmates, teachers, and interested community members.
Teachers choose topics they are passionate about, and students get to pick from the list. The projects focus on aspects of academic and cognitive preparation, technical skills, employability skills, and civic engagement.
The topics students have chosen, include refinishing furniture, canning foods, yoga, biking, and fishing.
“Fishing sounds like it’s just a hobby, but it can be a way to feed your family,” Raymer said. “They’ve talked about wildlife and how to preserve it.”
Junior Jensen Riffel chose a canning project because of a family connection.
“My grandmother does a lot of canning,” he said. “It always interested me when I was little.”
Now that he knows how to preserve foods in bulk, Riffel said he looks forward to seeing how they taste in a year.
“If you know how to do it then you can make big batches,” he said. “You can keep grabbing after a long time instead of having to buy more over and over.”
Raymer said that some projects get students working together regardless of grade level.
“We have preschoolers putting in the garden fountain with seniors,” he said.
“The older ones did the digging, and the little ones brought the rocks over to line it.”
Riffel’s canning class is one with younger students. Four of the six are high schoolers, but one is a middle schooler, and another a fifth-grader.
“We make sure they have a bit of fun and aren’t so uptight since they’re with upperclassmen,” he said. “We always make sure they get the chance to do things.”
Interacting with new groups of peers without worrying about a grade is a good experience, Raymer said.
“You have this one student who is shy and the older kids who are well-known, they’re working with her to make her feel like part of the group,” Raymer said. “Nobody is judging you or grading your performance. It’s all about the learning.”
Seventh-grader Karsen Kroupa said he was focusing on science, and that he recently grew crystals by filling an empty eggshell with hydrogen sulfate.
“I just like science,” he said. “Once it’s all done, the outcome is pretty cool.”
The projects already have Karsen thinking about what he wants to do next year.
“Self-defense looks fun,” he said. “It’s like going outdoors and doing activities, but you get to stay inside.”
Students aren’t the only ones looking ahead, Raymer said.
“You have teachers thinking about what they can do next, and where they can learn from the kids,” he said. “It’s sparking that now. Maybe the collaboration isn’t just teachers, maybe it’s students and teachers working together for a greater cause.”