Montana Teachers Focus on Student-Centered Learning

Our Montana Conference teachers have been focusing on student-centered learning this year. Take a closer look at each of the featured schools and you will see that whether through Family Groups, Chapel Buddies, project-based learning or mentorship programs, students are learning to collaborate with peers of any age as well as with their community members.

You will also notice teachers are not just focusing on innovative methods but on social and spiritual development as well. This is evident thought efforts such as Social Skills Assembly, Family STEM Nights, flexible homestyle learning environments and outreach programs. We are blessed with dedicated teachers who love Jesus and strive to share His love with their students, school families and community members.

Mount Ellis Elementary

This year Mount Ellis Elementary in Bozeman has focused primarily on the social aspects of education. For several years we have talked about teaching social skills to our students every month. These are real-life skills that help students to learn the unwritten rules of adulthood. Each month we introduced a specific skill that we would focus on and introduced it during our Social Skills Assembly.

During assembly we would sing, have a worship thought, and introduce the new skill along with a detailed list of how to effectively execute the skill. The teachers usually performed a short demonstration of the wrong way and the right way to use the skill. Each month teachers chose one student from their room who best demonstrated the social skill of the month. Those students received a certificate and a reward trip with the group of winners and a trusted adult (usually our pastor, Jim Jenkins, and his wife, Sandy). The reward trips have included a trip to a bakery for dessert, an ice cream trip, bowling and the all-time favorite trip to the JumpTime trampoline park.

The other big initiative we started this year was the introduction of Family Groups. We divided our school into five diverse groups of students from pre-K through eighth grade. The groups all were headed by a staff member or teacher. We worked hard to form groups that would include no siblings or family members. The groups met once per month and engaged in a special activity, game or worship thought. They also shared a special snack or treat.

We wanted family groups to be a time that was exciting for all the students. We wanted them to get to know one another and to see a different side of the staff members. We decided to keep family groups the same for the first semester and switch things up for second semester. It was so much fun and made our school a much more cohesive, tight-knit group.

Trout Creek Adventist School

When you are in a small school environment, it is important to include as many people as possible in your program. The school feels bigger, and the students have more experiences and hear a variety of views from different people. They learn to work in larger groups and with different ages, which are crucial 21st-century skills to have.

This year at Trout Creek Adventist School we implemented two new programs that enabled us to be more inclusive. On Thursday afternoons, our classroom of 10 doubled in size as our Chapel Buddies came to school. These are students ages 4 and up who are either not old enough to start school yet or who are being home-schooled. We enjoyed art, science projects, STEM challenges, practical art, special event days and, of course, chapel time.

Each of the students at TCAS had a chapel buddy who they partnered with for all the activities. Students also helped lead the chapel time, and we heard from many different guest speakers who inspired all the students with our theme of “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” and our school verse of the year, Psalm 34:8.

The second program we implemented at TCAS was our Family STEM Nights once a quarter. These events focused on science, technology, engineering and math. Our first one was Our Future Is Bright Night and included some glow-in-the-dark and building challenges. The second night was our Toothpick Bridge breaking night. The third one we did was a I Love Math night in February.

Family STEM nights are a fun way to work as a family learning and playing together. Family units participated in working together to solve problems and create. We are looking forward to continuing to partner with our church families and community members to create a big-school feel in our little rural community.

Valley Adventist Christian School

This was a year of discovery for Valley Adventist Christian School in Kalispell as we made some changes to our program starting with a new flexible, homestyle learning environment.  We also decided to pursue project-based learning while cultivating a culture of growth mindset. Students learned the benefits of collaboration while strengthening their leadership skills by encouraging others as they grappled with new concepts. During our Bible class, Encounters With Jesus, we have learned God is always ready to comfort and guide us on our earthly journey.

Our hope is to increase our project-based learning environment to include more nature-based, hands-on experiences. We also want our students to get more involved in local service projects and plan to encourage more students to participate in the Partnering for Eternity program. Run by Southern Adventist University in Tennessee, this program facilitates relationships between Seventh-day Adventist academy and elementary students and mentoring adults in their communities. We are thankful for God’s leading in this last year and are eager to see His leading as we plan for next year.