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Franklin Regional introduces new programs

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017, 2:45 p.m.
Franklin Regional Senior High School on July 13, 2017.
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional Senior High School on July 13, 2017.
FRSD Superintendent Gennaro Piraino.
Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murr
FRSD Superintendent Gennaro Piraino.

The changing face of education in the Franklin Regional School District has revolutionized the way Megan Melucci teaches.

“It has become this amazing opportunity for the kids,” said Melucci, who teaches fourth grade at Heritage Elementary School.

Melucci was one of several district teachers who had the opportunity to experience a classroom this past year with a 1:1 tech-to-student ratio: every child in her class had a Google Chromebook, and she now serves as one of the district's “digital ambassadors” who have been trained in a variety of areas related to boosting the amount of contact students have with technology during the day.

Superintendent Gennaro Piraino said the coming school year will continue the district's pursuit of “providing a world-class educational opportunity to students.”

“Our students are creating and solving real problems, because we know that's how they'll be evaluated in the real world, rather than just by a test score,” Piraino said.

To that end, several new programs are being implemented for the 2017-18 school year, including:

• The Discovery Education Network Ambassador Program, which trains participants on integrating digital media in the classroom and providing a platform for them to share those strategies with colleagues.

• Laying the Foundation, a program where teachers take complex concepts like calculus and map them backward in an effort to align elementary- and middle-school curricula “so that the building blocks students will need later in school are in place,” Piraino said.

• Project Lead the Way, a three-year program that places an emphasis on problem solving, critical and creative thinking, collaboration and communication and helps teachers create a learning environment where students are actively engaged.

The first step toward this goal was creating an intro to engineering course, which has found its way onto a lot of students' schedules for the fall, district officials said.

• An expansion of the district's existing College in High School program. In the 2016-17 school year, 243 Franklin Regional students were enrolled in more than 480 classes at Westmoreland County Community and LaRoche colleges.

• Working with the National Math and Science Initiative to improve and expand the number of Advanced Placement courses the district offers, as well as boost the number of students taking those courses.

• Continuing to work toward a district-wide 1:1 tech-to-student ratio.

Melucci said one of the ways she is working to engage students is by “incorporating what's in the kids' backyard.”

“I can provide them with things like virtual field trips, tablets that have multiple applications so that students can really immerse themselves in flowers or insects,or whatever we're working on,” she said. “But it takes my kids' learning deeper than it's gone before. They can see what's happening out there in nature, and then come to class and merge technology with that.”

Even everyday interactions can be done more efficiently, Melucci said.

“I can conference with students virtually, I can help them amend things if they're working on a paper,” she said. “I can give them nearly instant feedback. It's all built into (these programs.”

Piraino said measuring student progress strictly on the basis of standardized test scores does not work.

“Our students are more than a test score,” he said. “We want our teachers talking to students as early as third grade about the importance of a rigorous education. Our belief is that as we strengthen our core curriculum and critical thinking skills, the test scores will take care of themselves.”

Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2862.

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