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 Momentum Learning Students Explore Deep Topics

Students at the San Diego County Office of Education's Momentum Learning schools are diving into deep topics thanks to a continued focus on project-based learning.

Throughout March, 11 Momentum Learning sites hosted student learning exhibitions on topics ranging from food justice and homelessness to willpower and the future. Community members, parents, and Momentum team members were wowed by the students’ work, which included artwork, a town hall discussion, documentaries, and other presentations.

“The student exhibitions are a vital part of the way we do project-based learning because they increase the authenticity and urgency of learning for the students,” said Jessica McCreary, interim executive director of Momentum Learning.

At Escondido Blended Community School, the exhibition featured a group-project documentary on choices, as well as individual presentations on cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, and Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s really a big deal to see the culmination of their work in front of their family and community members,” Principal Joel Spengler said. “I’m proud of all the students here.”

The students' 20-minute documentary “Choices,” was inspired by the homeless people and activities they saw in Grape Day Park, located next to the school’s previous location.

“We were talking about the homeless problem and asked, ‘What if they had a story?’ ” said

student Antonio Lopez, 17. “One guy said he was a professor but had one little mess-up and he became homeless. It changed our way of seeing the homeless.”

The topic launched an extensive discussion on choices, and over the subsequent weeks teachers invited guest speakers from the Escondido History Center, the District Attorney’s Office, and county health, who spoke about homelessness, the effects of marijuana on brain development, and more. The students researched science and history, and interviewed classmates and some of the people who live in the park.

“This project is dear to our heart,” said teacher Penny McNeil, who nurtured the students’ work along with teacher Pam Berlinguette, and coaches Melanie Tolan and Sara Matthews.

The exhibitions began as a pilot program at a handful of Momentum Learning sites in the 2015-16 school year. The number of students participating has expanded dramatically with more teachers and schools taking part in interdisciplinary project-based learning.