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A crowd gathers during the Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education meeting April 7, 2015, at the City/School Administration Center.

Journal file

A pilot program at Canyon Lake Elementary School that engages students by appealing to their individual interests drew questions from the Rapid City Area Schools Board at Monday’s meeting.

The Mass Customized Learning Pilot hopes to capitalize on the passion and sense of ownership possible when students learn about things that interest them. The pilot is funded by a roughly $90,000 state grant.

Students at Canyon Lake spend their mornings working on traditional subjects like reading, math and science, with a focus on project-based learning. Afternoons are spent in student interest group sessions like computer coding, sign language, art and genius hour, which encourage students to develop personal interests, collaborate on special projects and design solutions to solve real-world problems.

Canyon Lake Elementary Principal Dave Swank addressed board questions about the grade progression of fast learners versus slow learners, attention paid to core subjects, and measurements of student outcomes.

Swank said students were assessed at the beginning of the school year on their attitudes toward college and on the value of hard work.

“We do expect to see improvement in academic scores as well,” Swank said. When students read and write to learn about their interests, he said, their ability to read and write also improves.

One measure of the program’s success to date, he said, is the lack of school discipline issues in the afternoon, typically the most difficult time for teachers.

This year, he said, “Not one student has come to the office from a course that’s elective.”

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RCAS officials said other principals have taken notice of the project. A variety of alternatives are possible. Swank’s efforts have stimulated discussions.

No action was taken on the item.

On another matter, the board voted to approve an agreement with Language Line Services Inc. to provide interpretation services for students lagging in English language development. The district has 82 students whose primary language is one of 10 other than English. Most speak Spanish, but other languages include Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines.

The primary use of the interpretation line will be to communicate with students’ parents.

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