Learning by doing

Clark Fork High School’s Experiential Learning Showcase highlights community involvement, progress

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

When Clark Fork Junior/Senior High School struggled with enrollment in the not-so-distant past, Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Shawn Woodward gave the school’s teachers the green light to try something different.

Freshman Katelyn Matteson demonstrates her Parks and Recreation project for English teacher Becca Palmer. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

Last Friday, the results of that change were on display at the school’s third annual Experiential Learning Showcase, where students show off what they’ve learned in their experiential learning track programs like Parks and Recreation, Tech, Art and more during select “Track Days” throughout the school year.

“So much of the learning is actually in the context of the real world,” Woodward said Friday between asking students about their projects. “One of the things that I think about often is — and one of the tricks is — if we can get all of these kids thinking, ‘OK, I’m learning something I’m interested in and passionate about. Maybe I can actually go out and work in this field and make money doing it.’”

While the aforementioned tracks are done in large groups of multi-age students, those in Senior English are required to take part in the Independent Track, where they find a mentor in the community to job shadow and then they base their Senior Project off what they learned. Those projects were also presented Friday for a panel of judges. 

English teacher and Independent Track Coordinator Becca Palmer said she strives to invite judges who are “business leaders” from organizations like Idaho Fish and Game or Thorne Research, and who don’t know the kids.

“It allows (students) to experience the ‘real-life’ scenario of speaking professionally to strangers, and it ups the ante quite a bit,” she said. “I really work with kids on exploring their passions, acting professionally both with their mentors and myself, and building community. So many mentors love the program and have taken on different students over multiple years. It’s been awesome.”

Sophie McMahon spent her time in Independent Track shadowing at Green Mountain Medicine, an acupuncture and holistic health care provider, and said she learned “a huge amount about naturopathic and Chinese medicine, as well as the importance of patient-doctor relationships.” McMahon said she often feels “pretty lost” when it comes to considering a future career, but the school’s use of experiential learning has helped her find her way.

“The Independent Track, and other learning tracks, have helped me so much to figure out what fits me and has given me the opportunity to try careers and experiences that I’m curious about,” she said.

Government teacher and Parks and Recreation Track Coordinator KC MacDonald kept a close eye on students Friday to be sure they were making eye contact with visitors, shaking hands and representing CFHS well. He said that the showcase has been a work in progress, but the students are starting to take ownership.

“It’s getting better every time,” he said.

Any businesses interested in mentoring an Independent Track student can reach Palmer at (208) 255-7177 ext. 4353 or [email protected]

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