Innovation and creativity are at the heart of Bethel Park School District. We strive every day to educate students effectively and as a professional learning community. This article, which appeared in a recent issue of PA Administrator Magazine, is a collaborative gathering of examples and best practices from teachers, principals, directors, and district administrators to showcase all our schools have to offer.
Bethel Park High School is an example of what makes public education and its commitment to our community top-notch. BPHS has forged significant partnerships with regional and national corporations, such as Google, IBM and Carnegie Museum of Art. Apprenticeships, internships and innovative classwork engage students in collaborative programs. In partnership with Project Lead the Way, the nation's leading provider of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, students develop the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century. Diversified Occupations curriculum helps students learn how to succeed in the world of work, matching their strengths to career paths. Collaborating with Pittsburgh Dataworks, BPHS is preparing the next generation of big data thinkers for the global economy.
Built in 2012, BPHS is an award-winning Green Globe Certified high school that provides a state-of-the art setting for teaching and learning with a rich curriculum centered on student-choice and opportunity. A wide spectrum of courses, augmented by robust elective and extracurricular programs in every department educate nearly 1,700 students. For instance, a contemporary physical education curriculum trains students in kayaking and mountain biking, while the family and consumer science department runs a community preschool that offers hands-on childhood development courses. Art and science department teachers have collaborated to develop a course that provides students an opportunity to explore ideas in both disciplines. The high school has a writing center, black box theatre, music technology suite, a supplemental Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) policy, television studio, technician-staffed science lab, consumer, and technology education labs. In these environments our students work with highly qualified teachers and field specialists in an innovative, integrated approach of traditional tutelage and digital tools that equips them for their futures.
To supplement our ‘traditional’ high school students, the Bethel Park School District also offers an online academy. The Bethel Park Online Academy (BPOA) is an Internet-based learning program that delivers accredited curriculum and instruction via the Internet for students in grades K-12. BPOA students have access to more than 250 Pennsylvania-accredited online courses and electives, including Advanced Placement and foreign languages that are aligned to the Pennsylvania State Standards. Students can participate full-time in BPOA or supplement their current in-school course work with classes that are not offered by the School District. Students who participate in the BPOA can receive a Bethel Park High School diploma.
Not to be outdone, our middle schools have been recognized for achievement at the state and national level and have been additionally awarded two US Department of Education Blue Ribbons. Independence Middle School (7th and 8th grades) places a high priority on student centric learning that is facilitated through creative uses of technology integration. Students were recently engaged in an innovative testing model in cooperation with Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), which allowed students to pilot common and standards-based testing on iPads. In traditional core content areas, teachers are utilizing online tools such as the Library of Congress, Criterion and more to extend learning beyond the classroom. Gifted and talented 8th grade students develop an idea for an original game and learn basic computer programming skills to bring their idea to life. Technology integration is evident in the arts where band students have video conferences with the US Army and the opportunity to gather feedback from one of our nation’s premier military bands.
Additionally, to create 21st century classrooms that allow for collaborative work and content mastery, Neil Armstrong Middle School (5th and 6th grades) has created instructional environments that utilize Project-Based Learning (PBL) through technology. Currently, they have equipped approximately 15% of the student population with Google Chromebooks with an eventual goal of 1:1 integration. As a professional learning community, NAMS has utilized Google Docs to allow staff to share ideas, best practices, and data to help inform instruction. Innovatively, the building has both teachers and students using Chromebooks so that instructional and student learning experiences are mirrored.
The Bethel Park School District operates five elementary schools offering a neighborhood feel and allowing our teachers and staff to integrate themselves into the community. BPSD Elementary Schools have emphasized that instruction doesn’t end in the classroom. They have forged academic partnerships through grants from the Buhl Foundation, the Grable Foundation, Pre-K Counts and Direct Energy. Additionally, students understand that a commitment to their community is vital by volunteering with organizations such as the Fred Rodgers sweater drive, the Ronald McDonald House, and Make-a-Wish, to name just a few. In an effort to foster habits of lifetime fitness and health, our schools have initiatives such as after school running clubs, staff inspired healthy eating and a focus on emotional well-being. High School students often serve as role models by visiting the elementary schools to encourage positive life choices.
Creativity abounds at our elementary schools. Students experience real life applications of math through role playing and use of manipulatives, reading independently through meaningful literacy tasks, and hands-on science activities. Core content instruction is brought to life through the use of interactive short-throw projectors, iPads, Chromebooks, and a myriad of additional instructional technology. Placing a priority of reading in all areas, teachers are often challenging students to write critically, analyze experiences through non-fiction and primary resources, and partnering with older students to promote literacy across all levels.
As a regional example of student care, the Bethel Park School District Special Services Department offers our students direct support and coordination of K-12 student services with multiple technologies and assistive devices based on identified needs. Some of these include: Proloquo 2 Go and other interactive touch-based applications, Boardmaker, Video Self-Modeling, Read2Go Digital Books and Bookshare, Read & Write Gold, FM Listening Systems, and other adapted devices.
The department prioritizes the needs of preschool students and their families with various school-age transition planning activities, including the implementation of a first-ever district awarded Pre-K Counts Grant. Using an effective practice model for research-based strategies and interventions, the district focuses its programs and services on inclusionary practices, parental involvement, and interagency collaboration.
The Bethel Park School District is certainly a destination district with a rich history of student success in public education. We continue to improve with educator professional development, parent involvement, and community outreach. As a premier suburban Pittsburgh district, we’re proud of our commitment to public education and strive for our students to become lifelong learners.