The high school also received iPads for the entire student body.
On a dreary morning during the first week of school, students of Eastern Regional High School were wrapping up summer with a “circle of fifths” lesson in their new music technology lab.
The lab, where students can produce full compositions, is encompassed in the assortment of classes added to the school’s 2017–2018 course catalog.
Emerging electives, such as this one, stem from last year’s implementation of the Common Lunch, which creates a more collegiate system within the school, as students’ schedules vary from day to day and teachers offer office hours for tutoring.
“We changed our bell schedule with the idea of creating more personalized learning opportunities for our students,” said Robert Cloutier, director of curriculum, instruction and professional development. “That was the goal — for students to make choices that are more aligning with their interests.”
Since last year was focused on students’ and staffs’ acclimation to the system, this school year allowed leeway to experiment with the curriculum. After daily classes climbed from seven to eight, students gained the opportunity to design their lessons.
Just in the past year, the school has seen a significant increase in the number of students taking more than one AP class, as well as a massive rise in art, business and music class enrollments. Academic advancements have spilled into other categories, as well.
“Behaviors got better, because students had the opportunity to be students and manage themselves,” Principal Robert M. Tull, Jr. said.
Along with the music lab, which features keyboards and software such as GarageBand and Sibelius, the school incorporated new art classes, such as “The Art of Crafts” and technological courses, such as advanced robotics. Additionally, at the start of this year, all 2,100 pupils were provided individual iPads. In previous years, just one grade received the gadgets.
Over the summer, the culinary classroom underwent renovations with the demolition of a concrete wall, fusing two classrooms into one. The pristine kitchen is equipped with gas ranges, microwaves, sinks, counters and other appliances.
“We wanted to make sure that what our teachers were really passionate about, and what they wanted to offer, were made available for our students,” Cloutier said. “The best ideas are coming from our students and teachers on how to make us even better, which is fantastic.”
Aside from customized curriculums, the Common Lunch particularly benefits freshmen and seniors.
For freshmen, the schedule is helping to ease their transition from middle school. Through a mandated study hall, students now receive guidance through the Student Alliance Mentors, a group of 10th to 12th graders. This counseling carried over from Eastern’s inaugural three-day orientation camp this past summer, which consisted of activities aimed to help new students navigate through the high school.
For seniors, the schedule is further cultivating college preparation, as Eastern has expanded its partnership with Camden County College this year.
In the afternoon, CCC professors teach college courses on Eastern’s campus, with classes offered at $275. More courses were added this year, including a new public speaking class, which, although it is instructed by Eastern staff, is eligible for college credit.
The college courses can account for up to a semester’s worth of tuition, as credits are transferrable to other universities.
“(With the Common Lunch,) we’re trying to get students to govern themselves and hopefully create an atmosphere where this is a habit,” Tull said. “And students do a good job of governing themselves. It’s just a matter of letting them do it.”