"Not only did they gain a better appreciation of the novel (The Old Man and the Sea), but they also gained an appreciation for the things outside the novel which connect to the events, to the author, and to the themes of the story. Sometimes we don’t give students credit for being able to make these connections and analyze at this level – and they often then find a novel boring. But if you give them the materials and show them how [these connections are made], then they want to do it themselves." This summarizes both the motive for and the effect of Julia Campbell-Swankoski's "novel" approach to seeing art as a part of a language arts classroom.
A teacher at Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School since 2004, Julia Campbell-Swankoski has already distinguished herself as someone willing (and able) to take on new programs and explore new methods. A graduate of Ursinus College, she recently completed her Masters from St. Joseph’s University, gaining certification in Instructional Technology. While her primary teaching assignment is for 9th and 10th grade Language Arts, Julia also serves as the coordinator for the gifted program at the high school, the site coordinator for P-W’s participation in the Virtual High School, and as advisor to the Reading Olympics team.
The Virtual High School program allows students to gain high school credit for work which is primarily online. “Students get high school credit for a full course – some of which are year-long and some of which are for a semester. It works through an accredited high school out of Massachusetts. Rather than going to a traditional classroom, for one block a day they are permitted to go to a computer lab for their coursework. This is great for some students who have time commitments during the school day, but have more time at night. It’s difficult and it teaches students that they really have to manage their time and study on their own in an unstructured environment. All the discussions that you would typically have in the classroom are online in huge discussion boards.”
Virtual High School prepared highly motivated students for the independent rigors of college, but is also useful for students seeking to make up credits prior to graduation. “That takes more guidance from me. I have to become an advisor, helping them to get going and then checking [frequently on their progress.]” Still in its first year at P-W, the Virtual High School is creating a lot of buzz among students interested in the experience. “It takes a lot of self-discipline, and it’s easy to fall behind. But it’s also easy to excel.” Finding new ways for students to excel was also part of Julia’s plan to combine art and a reading of Earnest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea. In fact, she sought the novel which had proven the most difficult for her students. “Old Man and the Sea is all short sentences about a man on a boat for three days. As a result, students are bored with it sometimes. My goal was to find the text that did not connect with my students, and then find something interesting to do with it.”
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