Students at the School of Enterprise Marketing (SEM) at New London High School are thriving in an environment that allows them to apply their ideas to real-life scenarios as part of their educational requirements.
SEM is a charter school that was first introduced six years ago. Charter schools are public schools, accountable to their authorizing agency for performance measures included in the charter contract. In this case, the authorizing agency is the New London School Board.
SEM had a five-year contract with the school board. After reviewing the schools successes, the board renewed the five-year contract with SEM, and the school is continuing to help students take responsibility for their education and become self-starters.
“A counselor from one of the elementary schools needed ideas to help promote the Character program,” said Sophomore Kendra Rateau as she explained what she was working on in Missy Porath’s class at SEM. “My idea to help her is to create placemats that help increase awareness of the program. I’ve been working with the schools, counselors, art classes, and area publishers to help coordinate a plan to have these placemats printed and distributed locally. I’m going to pick the top 20 student designs that describe the Character program, and then have them printed and used at local restaurants to promote the Character program.”
Rateau’s project will require her to work with numerous personalities and age groups in order to complete the task. Along the way, she’ll learn more about printing costs and specifications. She is also honing her communication skills and learning more about the education and business worlds, as her project forms a bridge that will connect the two.
For most classes, students earn .5 credits for taking a course. SEM students can earn .75 credits for the 75 hours of work completed in the SEM class.
“It’s a neat environment,” said Rateau of the SEM class. “You have your own cubicle, and you work at your own pace. You get to choose your own projects based on your own ideas. It helps you in life because they’re projects you’re responsible for completing yourself.”
Cambria Fitzgerald, Caitlin Schmidt, and Jenna Mytton are working on a “True Beauty” project for students in lower grade levels.
“Our plan is to create a seminar, videos, and a website that promotes true beauty,” said Fitzgerald. “We hope to run programs for elementary and middle school students that will help teach them the meaning of true beauty and boost their self-esteem.”
“I like SEM because we set our own goals, and we have opportunities for more real-life projects,” said Schmidt. “We have more freedom, but there’s just as much work to do as a normal class. The difference is that you don’t mind the work so much because it’s something you enjoy.”
“The projects are not teacher-chosen,” commented Fitzgerald. “We pursue topics we enjoy researching or talking about. Our projects give us real-life experiences, and at the end of the class, it’s not just a grade you receive-it’s something you’re proud of.”
Fitzgerald and Schultz both said they would recommend SEM to underclassmen.
“It’s a better environment,” said Fitzgerald. “Once you get started, you really get into it.”
Nicole Luedtke is a senior SEM student who is working on a “Coats for Kids” project.
“My plan is to collect coats for kids during Homecoming week and then donate them to the Salvation Army,” said Luedtke. “For my career, I want to do wedding planning; so, for my project, I chose to do a real-life planning event. I’m a visual learner, so projects like this one are better for me than just sitting in a traditional classroom environment. It also seems like less work for me because I enjoy what I’m doing, and it’s great to donate to a good cause. I also enjoy the independence, because it’s helping to set me up for college.”
Joe Nehring is also a senior SEM student. His project involves mentoring a student at Parkview.
“I struggled in reading when I was younger,” said Nehring. “I am currently mentoring a student at Parkview who is struggling just like I was at that age. We connect online via Skype every Tuesday. He picks out books, and I read them to him and help him with his reading skills. Since I struggled with reading as a kid, I really wanted to help teach a younger student how important reading is for their future.”
In addition to SEM, the School District of New London is in the process of creating another charter school. The Next Generation Academy will provide individualized education to about 125 students in 6th-12th grade. It will open at the start of the 2013-14 school year.