Our View: Schools on right track in building critical skills

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Our local students are shining brightly and deserve to be recognized.
And we’re not just talking about the multitude of stand-out athletes in the foothills.
Two groups of students – one from E.V. Cain Charter Middle School and the other from Rock Creek School – have excelled in recent critical thinking and science competitions. The students’ success is good proof that we have strong local schools that are working hard and well to prepare the next generation’s workforce.
Parents should take these results as a vote of confidence in the quality of public education in Auburn and educators should continue to strengthen and offer these types of programs and opportunities to students.
In April, six E.V. Cain students will take their science projects to the California State Science Fair in Los Angeles.
The students earned the trip after competing in the Sacramento Regional Science and Engineering Fair against 200 other middle school students from nine Northern California counties.
The projects are worthy, yet it’s the skills students learn while doing them that are more important.
“There are so many different modalities that are addressed, ranging from researching, finding information, becoming experts on a topic, typing and computer skills, graphic design, oral presentations, critical thinking, being able to support their thinking orally with a judge,” E.V. Cain science teacher Don Scott told the Journal. “And also, I think, they’re working on a higher level then they’ve ever had to work at before, and I think when they come out of it, they feel a lot more confidence, and they’re able to go onto any other projects down the road in school and be very successful.”
In a different competition, sixth graders from E.V. Cain, sixth graders from Rock Creek School and one from Bowman Charter School will test their critical thinking, imaginations and ability to strategize at “Destination ImagiNation” state finals this weekend.
To make it to the finals, the team from E.V. Cain placed first in one of seven regional competitions and the team from Rock Creek and Bowman placed third in the same event.
The success of Rock Creek students is especially notable as 91 percent of that school’s population qualifies for free or reduced lunch.
Often the tale of schools with students coming from low-income households can be a sad one of low test scores and poor performance.
Rock Creek is dispelling that notion about their school through education that promotes and develops critical thinking skills that are helping students compete well and succeed among their peers in competitions such as “Destination ImagiNation.”
The effort to encourage young elementary and middle school students toward these kinds of competitions is in line with future planning in higher education locally.
Sierra College met with 40 teachers from Placer and Nevada counties last month to talk about the school’s new Applied Critical Thinking for Advanced Technological Education (ACTivATE) program.
The program wants teachers to focus on creativity and innovation, critical thinking and communication, problem solving, flexibility and adaptability, taking initiative and self direction, and technical mathematics.
The college came up with the program after listening to regional employers and what type of skills their looking for in the upcoming workforce.
“Over and over again, we hear that they need employees that can problem solve, they can think critically, they can work independently, they can communicate effectively … so what we decided to do was pay attention to that,” said Carol Pepper-Kittredge, director of the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies at Sierra College. “It’s not a one-shot deal. It’s really a coming together of high school and college faculty as a learning community, as a work group, and really working together over the next 12 months to come up with some very customized pieces that will very directly effect what they teach and how they teach it.”
It’s great to see that Auburn’s schools are already teaching those skills and with success. Educators should continue supporting and encouraging students to participate in critical thinking competitions.
Our elementary, middle and high school educators should also be encouraged to work with Sierra College and its new program to realize its goals for all students in our district.
We’re already on the path to creating a strong workforce from the foothills and we should continue on it with even more energy than before.