Saluda Trail Middle School has been honored with an award from a national organization advocating for 21st century learning.
The school was one of 15 schools nationwide to be named a 2015 exemplar school by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, also known as P21.
At a meeting Monday afternoon, Principal Brenda Campbell, accompanied by several district administrators, surprised her staff with the news.
“We really want to recognize you as a shining star in our district,” said Assistant Superintendent Harriet Jaworowski.
But since P21 is a national designation, Assistant Superintendent Luanne Kokolis said it would be more accurate to call Saluda Trail a shining star in the country.
P21 schools are selected through a “rigorous application process” and are evaluated for “educational excellence and 21st century learning implementation,” according to a release from P21.
Since becoming a science, technology, engineering and math school – and more recently, adding the arts to become a STEAM school – Saluda Trail has been changing the way it educates students, Campbell said.
Instead of focusing on direct instruction and “teaching to the test,” classes at Saluda Trail emphasize collaboration, group work, projects and using skills to solve real-world problems, Campbell said.
“The kids are taking a lot more ownership of their learning,” said Lauren Yon, the theater teacher at Saluda Trail. “They’re thinking beyond this building.”
There was no doubt in sixth-grade science teacher Julia Millar’s mind that Saluda Trail would win the P21 designation.
“I knew we were already because we lead the way in innovative learning,” she said.
The methodology at Saluda Trail is different because the emphasis is on students taking charge of their own learning, while teachers are there as supporters and facilitators.
While there is no monetary prize associated with the award, Saluda Trail will be recognized on a national stage in Washington, D.C., in the spring, and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills will do a case study on Saluda Trail to showcase its successes.
Campbell said the real reward in all of this work comes from seeing the joy her teachers will feel in realizing their hard work has been recognized and the success of their students using these learning techniques.
“It’s so exciting for us to be able to do something that’s right for the kids,” she said.
This marks the second time a York County school has been named an exemplar school by P21. Last year, the Goddard School, with preschool campuses in Fort Mill and Rock Hill, made the list.