Mantua – At the June Crestwood School Board meeting, a group of students, graduates and parents made an impassioned plea urging the Board to reconsider budget cuts to the American Experience Academy curriculum. History teacher Angus McDougall, science teacher Andy Brown and English teacher Drew Pavelek originally designed the class.  The program, which up to now has incorporated history, science, and English coursework, will be modified during the coming school year to remove the English component. This change has taken place due to budget constraints.

Through the class, students are immersed into frontier life by learning the skills they would have needed to survive in the 1880s. But through the process, they also gain valuable skills that help them flourish after high school graduation, as well. Through the program, students learned to build a log cabin, tan deer hides, set traps for small animals, wade through rivers to learn about fish, make traditional food and sew period-appropriate clothing using primitive resources. But they learn so much more than what it took to survive the Ohio frontier.

Crestwood 2015 graduate Noah Gula shared, “The most useful and practical lesson I learned in Academy was how to write. Throughout the past two semesters at Ohio State, I have written well over 30 lab reports alone, as well as hundreds upon hundreds of pages for my engineering courses,” he explained. “I consistently received superior marks while most of my classmates struggled to write in a thorough and purposeful manner,” he added. “It is my concern that the class will lose some of its capability without a fully developed and well-rounded curriculum. The lessons taught in Academy English were just as important as the lessons taught by Mr. Brown and Mr. McDougall,” Mr. Gula concluded.

2013 grad Kelly Summers concurred, stating, “As a member of the first class of the American Experience Academy, all aspects of the course were still in the making. I can say without hesitation, however, that while the science portion influenced my future career path, the English portion provided me with the skills I need to get there.” Ms. Summers credits the skills she learned through the English curriculum, which included both critical analysis of text through rigorous class discussion, and the required individualized class presentations with helping her succeed in college. “Learning how to facilitate conversation and convey meaningful information were vital skills which I learned through the English portion of the American Experience Academy,” she continued. “I have greatly benefited from improving my presentation and text analysis skills though the English portion of the American Experience Academy,” Ms. Summers acknowledged.

Parent Becky Oliphant has two sons who have benefitted from the program. “My son Samuel is taking his second year of Academy. My son Ephraim is taking Academy for the first time this year, and would very much like to take it next year, but if English is not included he will have to make some difficult decisions regarding his course schedule,” she reported. She went on to explain, “One of the many reasons that the Academy classes are successful is its integrated learning. Because English is included in the Academy curriculum, students learn to better express themselves not only as English students, but also as scientists and historians. Students need an English perspective in addition to scientific and historical perspectives, just as they need scientific and historical perspectives in addition to English. Each of these perspectives complements the others.”

She’s concerned that if English is removed from the Academy curriculum, some students may be forced to make the difficult decision to forgo the Academy class due to scheduling conflicts in order to fulfill all the requirements for graduation. Some may even choose to enroll in special College Credit Plus courses offsite, at additional expense to the school district.

“My sons have benefited from so many aspects of the Academy classes. Through experiential learning opportunities, they are being stretched academically and are developing real-life skills and contributing to the community. They appreciate instruction in grant writing, trail work, learning to use tools, sewing, and other skills. They have been given applied writing assignments, and have struggled through challenging, thought-provoking reading assignments. The Academy class is providing excellent preparation for college or university study,” she shared.

Angela Daczko, another parent, cited the value of the program in relation to the scholarship money received by past participants, their classroom confidence, and improved college readiness. “The value of the experiential, knowledge applied, thought provoking, multi¬disciplinary approach of Academy English should not be under appreciated or disregarded,” she urged. “I believe the consistency and continuity of this program, to include English, aligns with the academic priority, mission, beliefs and vision we hold as a District.” Ms. Daczko went on to add, “The decision to eliminate English introduces potential scheduling obstacles for interested students, which will result in lower enrollment numbers that will be a detriment to the Academy program moving forward.”

Ms. Daczko implored the Board, “Can we take another, perhaps more creative look at addressing our financial situation that would include the protection of this program in its entirety? I appeal to you to reconsider the decision to eliminate English as part of the Academy program and ask for the full support of this program from all departments that may affect its enrollment, sustainability and growth.”

School Board President David Becker replied, “I recognize your passion,” addressing those who spoke on behalf of the American Experience program. “I applaud the incredibly talented teachers who make the program possible, and would love to see the entire structure at the High School be moved to the Academy structure. I’m just not sure how to make that happen.”

Superintendent David Toth explained how the Board is charged with meeting the needs of all the District’s students. He cited the recent downturn in student enrollment, which directly impacts the District’s bottom line. He explained how, when the program began at the High School, enrollment was at 729 students. In the years that followed, the number has fallen; 560 students are enrolled for the coming school year, with an estimated reduction to  540 over the following two years.

“Academy is what education should look like in the future,” Mr. Toth acknowledged. “However, we have the difficult task of making hard choices — of how to make it work within a typical school day, and how to accommodate the needs of all the District’s students.” “We’ve got a finite budget that must be used to serve all kids,” he concluded.

The next School Board meeting will be held will be held on  Monday, August 1st at 7 pm in the High School library.