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Westmont High school introduces program to train students in 'real world problems'

WESTMONT – While preparing for the upcoming school year, Westmont High School has taken a new approach to its curriculum, putting a spin on one of its preparatory classes.

Starting this fall, WHS will offer a class called Changemakers, which focuses on allowing students to find a solution for social conflicts or “real world” problems.

Michelle Torrise, who created the course with help from Superintendent Kevin Carey and Principal Jack Baldermann, said Changemakers will be authentic and unique.

“It’s a course for students to design their own path of learning,” Torrise said. “They’re going to find a subject that they’re interested in and passionate in, and they’re going to decide what their path is going to be by doing in-depth research.”

The yearlong course will begin with an idea festival helping students decide on separate projects. Around winter break, students will present the research they’ve developed and by the end of the year, they will each submit a portfolio or record of their learning process.

Although Torrise hopes the students develop a certain set of skills, she said she’s not going to tell them what to do.

“I’m just a facilitator,” Torrise said. “The most important things is to get kids excited about learning and give them the opportunity to look at it as something they can do for life.”

Baldermann said the course will be a first for WHS.

“Our superintendent, Kevin Carey really pushes us to be innovative,” Baldermann said. “And I believe the school should be a place where students can follow their passion.”

Baldermann said the class will be a different approach for everyone at first, but he thinks it will blossom.

“We really hope the students learn that they can make a difference in the world,” he said. “We want to be relevant for students.

“The purpose of learning in the end is to make a positive difference in the world.”

The process of developing Changemakers began about a year ago, Torrise said.

“This might not be for everyone but it’s going to expand our offerings,” she said. “It’s going to allow us to differentiate those students who aren’t as successful in a traditional learning class. But the students who do take it are going to advance in their other classes.”

Changemakers is open to all students, but for the first year, it has a smaller class of sophomores, juniors and seniors.

When it comes to the course’s curriculum, Torrise said there’s no set way of doing it.

“It’s more of a real world approach and that’s a big plus for our school,” Torrise said. “It’s very flexible and anyone can take it, there’s no limit. We’re going to help students from wherever they’re at to build the skills they need to complete the projects.”

Basing a class around world problems will help the students become better critical thinkers, communicators and speakers, she said.

“It is going to help them as individual learners and as they leave high school, those are skills colleges want to see,” Torrise said. “Everyone is going to take a different path in the world but this will give them a lot of confidence in their own ability.” 

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