As they prepare for the school year to begin in August, Mancos school leadership share their hopes and goals for the upcoming year, discussing their project-based learning model and new Mancos elementary principal Seth Levine.
Secondary school: a solid staff
Secondary school Principal Ed Whritner, who is in his second year as Mancos’ secondary principal, said he is excited to see how the project-based learning initiatives continue improving post-COVID.
“We started it four years ago, had a great first year and then COVID really set us back,” Whritner said. “We’ve put a lot of pieces in place.”
Whritner pointed to the experience of staff as the support needed to get the school year off to a strong start.
“We’ve got a really solid structure now in our secondary, in particular with instructional coaching and with me as an instructional leader with a project-based background and new staff with the appropriate training to really go both feet in again,” he said. “We also have a solid cohort of returning staff.”
“I’m really excited about that for students,” he said.
Returning staff bring an added comfort and familiarity to students, Whritner said, and he said they have already been proactive about building student-teacher relationships.
He also spoke about new staff who are “really high quality.”
Whritner noted that students learn differently than they did in generations past, and having project-based models helps keep students learning and growing academically.
One of the newer additions to Mancos’ project-based learning model is the pathways program, which allows students to take classes in fields such as drones, entrepreneurship, culinary, welding and more.
At first, Whritner said implementing the pathways posed a challenge.
“We learning a lot by trial and error last year, and made adjustments to address the things that were challenging,” he said. “Now this year we can really refine those programs, and that’s exciting to think about where we’ll take that this year.”
Other changes Whritner noted include a full-time social worker brought on by a grant and a full-time position for the dean of students.
Elementary School: new resources
Seth Levine is Mancos’ new elementary principal after former principal Cathy Epps became a teacher in the elementary school.
Levine detailed his excitement for the new school year, and spoke about various ways the elementary school is working to boost student learning and engagement in core classes such as English and math.
“As the new principal of Mancos Elementary, I am so excited about a number of new things that we will be doing this year,” he said.
The elementary school is adopting a new English/language arts resource called Benchmark Advance, which Levine said is based on new discoveries regarding research reading in elementary schools.
“It utilizes highly engaging texts and novels to teach kids literacy skills while also learning about history, civics, economics, science and technology. Not only is this strategy much more engaging for students, but research has conclusively shown that kids learn ELA skills with more efficacy if they are learning in concert with other content areas with real-world connections,” Levine said.
He also shared that they hope to promote the love of reading to students, encouraging them to embrace reading. They will accomplish this by many different activities for students, parents and even community members.
“We are going to encourage the love of literature by reading a book together as an entire school and having a ton of different activities for kids, parents and community members to engage in. It's going to be a fun literacy project for our entire staff and student body,” Levine said.
Math can be one of the most difficult subjects for students to engage in, but Levine hopes to encourage student participation and interest by combining math instruction with the Mancos Mathlete awards. And students will even have chances to win prizes.
“Every student at Mancos Elementary will have an opportunity to earn a Mancos Mathlete T-shirt at some point in the year by working toward and achieving individualized math goals,” he said.
Levine also spoke about the schools “exceptional” new counselor who will be running a social-emotional class for children in the elementary school.
He shared his goals as the new principal of Mancos Elementary as well.
“My aspiration for this year as a new principal is to be a servant leader for this incredible school and community,” Levine said. “Nowadays, everyone is so quick to criticize our world, but there are few individuals who are willing to dedicate their lives to making it a better place. I love teachers because they take personal responsibility for a child's education and wellness. We have the most amazing staff here at Mancos Elementary, and it is such an honor and a privilege to be in this role.”
Preschool: learning through playing
Tyra Hughes, the director of the Mancos Early Learning Center, spoke about the importance of play-based-learning for her students, who range from 3 to 4 years old, and how that kind of learning structure feeds directly into project-based-learning in the future.
“Young children are making sense of their world through play,” she said. “They’re figuring out spatial awareness and shapes, and it helps them learn developmentally appropriate practice. It’s really fun to be in their world … in our adult thinking we can forget how to enjoy the discovery of the world around us.”
Hughes has been involved with the Early Learning Center for eight years, and is in her second year as the director. For half the day Hughes teaches, and is in the office as director for the other half the day.
“I’m looking forward to taking what I reflected on from last year and adjusting this year,” she said.
Children in the Early Learning Center aren’t separated by age, which Hughes said creates a great learning environment for the preschoolers.
“The young ones really benefit from being around the older kids, and it gives a leadership role to the older preschoolers,” she said.
Hughes said the leadership team for the Early Learning Center got together over the summer to prepare their project-based learning and to do leadership training.
“It was inspiring and hopeful for all the building levels to be laser-focused on implementing project-based learning,” she said.
“I think now we have some additional tools to introducing project-based learning that will carry through when they transition to kindergarten and then again to secondary school,” she added. “I’m excited about that for us as a group and as a school district.”