Hands-on learning helping students achieve succecss

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NORWAY — Some students excel in learning by sitting at a desk in a classroom.

Then there are those – like Dave Knightly’s Diversified Occupational students at Oxford Hills Technical School – who connect best through hands-on learning.

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“This is an opportunity for kids who excel with hands-on learning,” said Knightly as he assisted students at Norway’s Alan Day Community Garden on Whitman Street last week where they harvested vegetables and built a hoop greenhouse and an addition to a garden shed.

The students in the Diversified Occupations class are an example of the success of hands-on learning for those who need direct practical experience to learn best. Students in the diversified occupations in the technical high school rotate between wood shop, garden and café to gain experience in all three areas, Knightly said.

“When I took over the position, I tried to get the kids outside,” said Knightly, a former long-time Spanish and science teacher, who like other district teachers saw the advantage of connecting his students with the community at large.

It is a goal that the district as a whole is adopting successfully.

This fall, the students are involved in gardening – helping to maintain gardens at the Alan Day Community Garden on Whitman Street and the Roberts Farm community garden on Roberts Road. School Administrative District 17 has relationships with both farms to provide students with hands-on learning.

The 165-acre Roberts Farm Preserve is a conservation and recreation project of the Western Foothills Land Trust. The Alan Day Community Garden is an educational demonstration garden, where people can grow their own food, using organic, sustainable methods to support an enduring community food system.

With resources such as Roberts Farm and Alan Day Community Garden in Norway accessible to students, teaching and learning has became a much broader experience for both teacher and students.

“I wanted to connect the kids with their community,” said Knightly of the decision to connect with the community garden.

Student Jeffrey Young said he leans toward the woodworking.

Using a square, a tape measure and a saw, Young has been spending time by the shed helping build an addition.

“It helps you,” said Young of the hands-on learning experience.

Young said although he doesn’t have his own garden, it is important to learn how to grow vegetables.

“I know if anything ever happens I could grow my own (vegetables,)” he said.

“My favorite thing is to get outside,” said student Jamie Heroux, who was busy in the garden with classmate, Kelsey Nicholas, who said she liked transplanting in the garden.

The students also have a greenhouse at the high school that this year is being used to grow kale, spinach and other vegetables.

“A lot of it is experimenting,” Knightly said of the students work in the greenhouse.

The diversified occupations class is part of Oxford Hills Technical School’s curriculum. Since 1998, the tech school and the high school have been one school under the name Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

The program also accepts students from the Buckfield Junior-Senior High School serving students in Hartford, Buckfield and Sumner.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net