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Student projects transform classroom and community

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SMITHFIELD — Hundreds of people attended the Johnston County Public Schools Innovation Expo to see teachers and students showcase innovative teaching and learning practices May 31 at the Johnston Medical Mall.

More than 80 presenters who represented 19 schools in the district shared examples of project-based, personalized, digital and social-emotional learning.

“The innovative practices on display show that our teachers are working hard to make learning relevant for students,” said JCPS innovation coach Melody Casey.

Students interacted with guests to show them the work they completed during the school year. One of the many projects on display was a model of an inclusive playground, designed by fourth grade students at Wilson’s Mills Elementary.

After observing peers with physical challenges and a field trip to Partnership for Children Park, the students compared and contrasted play spaces to design their own model of an inclusive playground.

“We were able to learn about so many different things with this project,” said Kathleen Culbreth, rising fifth grader at Wilson’s Mills Elementary. “I even learned that everybody should be treated the same, but in their own way.”

Groups of students worked together to prioritize, budget, and plan their designs before building models. They also worked on a written proposal for the school’s PTA and launched fundraising projects to support their cause.

“The coolest part of our project was having the Partnership for Children come talk to us about what we could do to build this playground,” said Culbreth. “We learned what would be the most effective way to build the playground and came up with ways to fundraise the money needed to build it.”

Culbreth said she and her fellow students raised a total of $347, which was matched by the school’s PTA. The students also received a donation of $500 for their project from the Partnership for Children.

Carmen Young, Wilson’s Mills Elementary teacher, said the students’ project will expand beyond the expo. The school is in the planning phases of using money the students raised to acquire additional playground equipment.

Some of the other projects on display at the JCPS Innovation Expo included a nonliving zoo, Coding with Sphero and learning about world history through historical fiction.

“The core content is still at the heart of everything they do, and when students get to experience that content through the lens of a real-world scenario or a platform that embraces both their individual talents and needs, they become better prepared for life,” said Casey. “It’s important to share this work with our community, so we can all be partners in propelling the students of Johnston County toward successful futures.”

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