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 JCCS Students Dig Deep with Thematic, Creative Projects

Students from various Juvenile Court and Community Schools (JCCS) sites have been given the opportunity to express themselves and show off their work while learning important lessons over the last several months as part of a new focus on project-based learning.

The effort to incorporate thematic interdisciplinary project-based learning, or TIP, started last year.

The basic idea of the TIP learning is that students are building a deep understanding of topics by studying them for several weeks across all content areas. Each topic they study culminates with an exhibition where students are able to display, present, and explain what they've learned.

"It's amazing," a 16-year-old student at Reflections Central School in La Mesa said. "This is the best thing our school has ever done. It's life-changing."

All JCCS schools have worked on a six-word memoir, allowing them to sum up their lives and their struggles in a few words and couple it with a longer essay and piece of visual art. Other exhibitions have focused on photographs and presentations about El Niño weather patterns.

At Reflections, students recently performed slam poetry and created podcasts about courage and higher purpose among other projects tied to the effort.

The work has been challenging but rewarding, especially receiving positive feedback, students said.

 "I loved it, because I never really express my feelings," one student said. "You have to dig deep. It definitely builds up our self-esteem and makes us feel so much better."

Another student at the school said that projects like these have helped motivate him to focus more on school and get better grades.

"Now I feel like I have a higher purpose," he said.

The three teachers at Reflections have fully embraced the project-based learning. They were among the first to start putting together lessons and exhibitions last fall.

"We thought, 'This is awesome,' " teacher Cindy Stallo said. "We just decided to jump right in."

Students have been much more engaged since starting the project-based work, she said.

"They take a lot of pride in showing off what they've done and receiving feedback and praise from adults," she said.

Originally, the plan was to roll out a pilot for about 20 JCCS teachers beginning in March, but teachers pushed to start implementing earlier the strategies that they have learned in professional development sessions over the last several months.

"There was a passion for this," said Matt Simon, professional learning specialist with JCCS, which is part of the San Diego County Office of Education. "Teachers love that they get to own it. They love that freedom."

At Second Chance Blended Community School in San Diego, teacher Marco Moore is incorporating some of the TIP philosophies by having students get into a circle each day to discuss lessons. He and his teacher assistant sit in the circle with them and participate in the discussion as equals, he said.

Their recent lessons culminated last month with a spoken-word essay contest based on the National Public Radio feature This I Believe.