Components of a program originally designed for English language learners are now being used throughout the general student population at Jefferson Middle School.
Through a partnership between Jamestown Public Schools and the State University of New York at Fredonia, Jamestown's students are being exposed to revolutionary teaching strategies through a program called Project Master - formerly known as Project BRIDGE, Bringing Resources that Incorporate Development in General Education.
The partnership began in 2007, when SUNY Fredonia secured a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education for the purpose of enhancing instruction for middle and high school English language learners and Limited English Proficient students.
Jean Michielli-Pendl, Project BRIDGE implementation coach for SUNY Fredonia, and Shannon Volpe, seventh-grade teacher at Jefferson Middle School, monitor students in Volpe’s classroom as they engage in a teaching strategy via Fredonia’s Project Master program.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
Since the expiration of the BRIDGE grant in 2012, Fredonia has applied for a new grant - Project Master - as a continuation of BRIDGE. This year, for the first time, all of JPS' ELL students have been centralized at Jefferson and have been dispersed throughout separate classrooms. Jefferson teachers have been working with BRIDGE specialists from Fredonia to implement the numerous instruction aspects of the program.
According to Jean Michielli-Pendl, Fredonia's Project BRIDGE implementation coach, having all of Jamestown's ELL students in one location makes for an easier task in ensuring that each student is receiving equal amounts of attention and opportunities.
"For SUNY Fredonia, to have all of the ELLs centrally located, meant that we then could help the teachers in any way we could," Michielli-Pendl said. "Some of them have had experience with ELLs, and some of them have not. But, honestly, there is no way that this could work unless I had teachers that were willing to try."
Michielli-Pendl said Project Master operates under an "I do, we do, you do" format, in which she will instruct students directly via the program's eight core components and 30 features before teaching in tandem with the teacher and, ultimately, letting the teacher instruct on their own. In the process, the program is integrating new teaching strategies that are intended to engage students with each other and the learning process for up to 90 percent of each lesson, making for an interactive style of education.
"We are preparing children for a different workforce," Michielli-Pendl said. "In the 1950s, we were preparing them for factory jobs where they worked alone. It's not like that anymore."
"Now, we are training children to work in collaborative groups at a slew of different jobs," Michielli-Pendl continued. "And this is fun for them. The kids love coming in here and working with us because they're social beings."
Shannon Volpe, seventh-grade teacher at Jefferson, said the new teaching techniques she has learned through her Project Master training has helped to reinvigorate her outlook on teaching.
"I love these strategies because I wanted to challenge myself, too," Volpe said. "And working with (Jean) has really made all the difference. I always tell her she's helped me reclaim my passion for teaching."
Volpe said this is especially true because of the fact that the Project Master strategies are applicable for her general education students, as well, which allows for a well-rounded teaching experience.
"Honestly, my kids love this," she said. "If I don't do one of these strategies all the time, they're always asking me about why we're not doing it. And I've noticed they do better on their tests, too."
According to Carm Proctor, Jefferson principal, the reason projects BRIDGE and Master have been so successful at her school is because the values of the school and programs are in alignment with one another.
"Our focus at Jefferson this year has been increasing student engagement in the classroom during instruction," Proctor said. "The nice part about what's happening with our students and teachers is the fact that students are much more engaged, and are retaining much more information while being able to use and apply it. The students are comfortable with these strategies and are using them regularly, and classroom peer tutoring has really taken off.
"What's also great is that we have a higher educational environment in SUNY Fredonia coming in and working with seasoned teachers, and it's been rejuvenating to teachers who may have felt stagnant by giving them new life in the classroom," she added.
Michielli-Pendl said she spends approximately 60 percent of her time as implementation coach at Jefferson, where she is contracted by teachers on at least a weekly basis. She said Fredonia is also currently implementing Project Master in the Dunkirk City Schools district, where she spends the other 40 percent of her time on the job.