Bitney Prep students partake in new ‘Learning Through Interest Program’
In normal times, every Wednesday Bitney Prep High School’s students would be out all day at internship sites of their own choosing. But these aren’t normal times. As all public entities have had to adapt one way or another to keep everyone safe during the pandemic, Bitney Prep has also had to adjust.
“Besides our amazing teachers and our small school size, our internship program is what separates us from other high school options in the county,” says Bitney Prep Director Jonathan Molnar. “For safety reasons, though, we couldn’t get most of our students out to sites at the start, so the staff got together and built our Learning Through Interest Program to keep our students engaged in real-world learning.”
Learning Through Interest is exactly what it sounds like. Students identify things about which they are passionate. Bitney teachers, through Bitney’s advisory program, help the students find ways to further explore their interests through meaningful work. This can take the form of taking online classes, doing virtual field trips, joining DIY communities, engaging with local community resources, or even working side-by-side with a family member.
Kelly Casey, Bitney’s English and Spanish Teacher, says, “The passion students are showing about this project has been amazing. We know that students are most engaged in activities that they are intrinsically motivated to accomplish, and our Learning Through Interest Program only proves this.”
Some of the projects are small in scope, like a student creating a cookbook with their grandmother because, as the student says, “I want to make sure we never lose access to my nanna’s food.” This project is also becoming an exercise in family history, as well as an exploration of the science of food. “Plus, I get to spend all this time with my nanna, which has been precious.”
Fiona, a 9th grader at Bitney is “making a comedy podcast about politics.” She chose this project because she “absolutely love(s) politics; they’re very interesting to me and politicians can do some really stupid crazy things that are great to joke about.” When asked how this project will help her prepare for her future, Fiona said, “I want to be in the political field as a job once I’m out of high school, so this gives me more knowledge in worldwide and local politics.” Fiona’s advisor at Bitney is helping her connect with local elected officials as well as getting her set up for some podcasting classes via Nevada County Media.
Other projects are a bit larger in scope. From learning astrophotography to creating their own line of clothing, Bitney students are encouraged to think big. Gwynna, a senior at Bitney, says she saw this project as an opportunity “to take my love for the sky, planes, and flight to the next level by actually learning how to be a pilot. It is a bit of a process, though, and I am just beginning. If all goes as planned, this will give me an early start on my dream future career as a commercial pilot. It will help me explore my passion for aviation, open doors for possible career choices, and even present me with new fields that I have not previously considered.”
The range of these projects keeps evolving as students continue to work on them. Bitney Prep has just started building a relationship with the Sierra Small Business Development Center in order to help some of their students turn their Learning Through Interest Projects into small businesses. Bitney English Teacher and LTI Coordinator, Daniel Elkin, says, “Everyone can use a side-hustle, right? Especially during a pandemic. Plus, it doesn’t get much more ‘real-world’ for a student than starting their own business. This is what we do at Bitney, prepare students for their future.”
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