A purposeful education can reveal a student’s greatest strengths. When an educational experience is unique and meaningful, it has the power to light the path for that student’s growth in school and well beyond, into their entire life.

This semester, Principal Jami Fluke, English teacher Sherri Sinicki, and Mechanics Instructor Charlie Hascall, teamed together to design a personalized classroom in the i3 Center for a group of struggling freshman students.

These students were becoming overwhelmed with their challenges in school. They were unmotivated to work in their learning environments and felt unable to fit into the system. As a result of their indifference, they lacked respect for the entire school experience and soon became infamous for their tendencies to disrupt classes.

Mrs. Sinicki and Mr. Hascall observed the students’ problems, both inside and outside of school and determined that something needed to change drastically for these students, in order to help them find their potential. Indeed, their greatness. They decided that the students needed an opportunity to experience an alternative learning environment. So instead of splitting the students apart and placing them in a program like Skysail or In School Suspension, they did the exact opposite.

Their classroom whiteboard for English

They gave them the opportunity to spend half of their school day together in the i3 Center to complete their Language Arts and Welding credits. The i3 Center, more specifically the mechanics and wood shops, brought all of these students together at the start of the school year. It was their mutual love for wood and metalwork, as well as agriculture, that kept them at school to begin with. So it served as the foundation for their teachers’ design plan to reimagine their school day.

Part of the experiment was creating a learning space just as effective as a typical classroom, yet completely unlike it in both function and appearance. The goal was to show the students that they are capable of becoming responsible for their own educations.

People define themselves by the way others reflect them. So the question became: “What would happen if these teachers expected greatness out of these students?”

A custom sticker on the door of their English classroom in the i3 Center. “Magnificent 6”

They started their new schedule in the i3 Center with Mrs. Sinicki to start participating in their newly created English class. There, she told them to brainstorm their own syllabus to reflect state standards as well as their own personal performance expectations. “The best thing for them [the students] to do, was to listen to themselves.” Mr. Hascall explained. After coming up with a plan for the semester, they came up with a team name: The Magnificent Six.

During 5th period, they are in the shop with Mrs. Sinicki writing essays and research papers, calling businesses for information on their mechanical projects with Mr. Hascall, and regularly updating their own journal entries. Then during 6th and 7th period, they are in the shops with Mr. Hascall. Right now, the students are waiting on a series of materials to build an 18-foot trailer — a large-scale project that they have been eager to start.

The students hope to continue working independently on the trailer after its completion, to incorporate science and agriculture by building a hydroponic system on top of it. The system could serve as a science presentation for other students of all grade levels, and potentially even give them a science credit.

When the students began adjusting to their new learning environment, they were uncertain about how they would succeed. But they were willing to give it a chance. Mr. Hascall told them: “As soon as we can own up to our mistakes, we can move on.” This thought resonated with the students and they started to become aware of their role in any classroom, as well as in their own learning.

Before the start of the Magnificent Six, Mrs. Sinicki and Mr. Hascall centered their focus on who these students were, before focusing on the problems they caused; they built the class on a system of consideration and respect. One student said, “I love that they listen to us.”

Mr. Hascall and a student work together during mechanics

The students described Mr. Hascall as a mentor more than a teacher. That made their relationship with him close and they all began to feel more like a team than a class. They soon realized that in order to complete any project, especially a big one like their trailer, they needed each other. This truth soon became one of the biggest driving forces behind their motivation, along with their passion for mechanics. “We all like mechanical stuff.” One of the students explained, after the team shared their career dreams. They described their futures as technicians, fabricators, metal and wood craftsmen, and machinists — each career path sharing one thing in common: a hands-on work environment. “I absolutely want to continue doing this next year.” Said one student, reflecting on the connection between his experience as a part of the Magnificent Six and his own future beyond high school.

According to Mr. Hascall, he is learning alongside his students. “Everything I’ve learned has been personal,” he said. He explained that in  every problem, there is a deeper story — and everyone has a story despite what may appear on the surface. By taking on a mentor role, he said that he has learned to be a gentler person and that sometimes all a student needs to feel valuable and strong, is a caring leader who can connect to them.

Any student has the power to make their own educational experience valuable. It is the educator’s job to recognize and encourage that power. Dayton is considering every student and providing unique in-school opportunities for them within the school district. Each classroom redesign is a learning experience for the district, with a greater goal of transforming education as we know it.

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.