Children are naturally curious and enjoy exploring. In traditional education models, children are led by teachers who tell them what to do. But at St. Joseph Parish School, there’s a new approach to learning that encourages children to lead and learn in a self-directed way, called “exploration.”
“Exploration is an opportunity for students to do just that – explore,” says Amy Makruski, Principal at St. Joseph Parish School. “If we want our students now to be leaders in the future, we have to teach them to be leaders of today! Exploration is a way for our students to feel empowered. They have their own voice and their own direction in deciding what they will learn, how they will learn it, and how they will share that learning with others.”
The exploration-driven model is something that was introduced to the school for the first time in the 2022-2023 school year. The plan is to continue this format moving forward. All students, from kindergarten through eighth grade, participate in the exploration learning format.
“We move from a format of guided inquiry and exploration in the younger grades to independent inquiry, research, and exploration in the older grades,” Mrs. Makruski says.
Given our ever-changing and advancing world, it is possible the careers of today’s children may not yet be established, says Mrs. Makruski. This means students may need to be ready for various unseen challenges and new experiences in years to come.
“In having that knowledge, it is our responsibility to grow learners who are ready for anything the future holds,” she says. “One way we can do that is by helping them learn to develop and foster passions, to research and use their time to learn new things and then, support them as they present this learning to an authentic audience.”
Students are divided into groups with a “mentor” teacher who helps support them in their projects. In order to help bring out their natural interests and talents, the students are intentionally matched with a teacher who has expertise in the subject to support their projects.
“So a student’s mentor can change from project to project, which has really helped to get the most out of our students and allowed our staff to join them on their adventures in a personal way,” Mrs. Makruski says.
On the surface, students gain knowledge about the topics they find interesting and learn new skills or hobbies along the way. But Mrs. Makruski says the benefits are deeper than that, providing students with life skills that will help them for years to come.
“Each project takes on its own path for each student and it is our position to help facilitate that and help them to reach their goals,” she says.
Given how the students are encouraged to grow in their natural talents, the program has a connection with stewardship, too.
“Everything we do here centers on our purpose here on earth and how we can serve others,” Mrs. Makruski says. “These projects use the talents and interests of the students to help them sort through how they can serve and better the world around them and to help them consider what their future vocation may be. We believe that by giving them multiple opportunities early in life to experience many fields this world has to offer, they will grow to be well-rounded citizens of the future.”