Business First has chosen 10 school districts and individual schools as winners of 2010 School Innovation Awards -- in honor of their unusually creative spirits -- while 10 runners-up have been picked for Special Mention designations.
The honorees emerged from an initial pool of 149 nominations, which was winnowed to 40 finalists in April. A five-member committee then selected the 20 programs that best met the criteria of innovation and "demonstrable success in engaging students' interest, boosting achievement levels, and/or inspiring community involvement."
The winners come from elementary, middle and high schools in communities as large as Buffalo and Williamsville and as small as Brocton and Springville.
Full details will be available in Business First's 2010-2011 Guide to Western New York Schools, which hits newsstands next Friday. Highlights are also available at the newspaper's website: buffalo.bizjournals.com.
Some of the programs chosen for School Innovation Awards are finite projects, while others have a continuous lifespan.
Here are examples of each:
• Students at Griffith Institute Middle School launched a balloon 17 miles into the stratosphere, and recovered it 50 miles away in Genesee County. The program was "student-directed and teacher-supervised," says social studies teacher Joseph Karb. Middle schoolers were given responsibility for everything from constructing the capsule to tracking its voyage.
"There was a great deal of excitement in the days leading up to the launch," he says. "Several hundred students gathered on the school lawn to witness it. After a countdown from 10, the capsule was launched to cheers and applause."
Karb says the project exposed students to a variety of subjects and skills, ranging from space and geography to teamwork and creative problem-solving.
"I have no doubt that the stratosphere project will never be forgotten by my students," he says, "and it may very well influence their future college or career choices."
• Another tightly focused program is the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies, which began in 2008 at Hamburg High School. Its 2010 session will occur during a two-week portion of summer break.
Participants learn about human rights violations and episodes of genocide since the beginning of the 20th century, lessons that are reinforced by field trips to such destinations as the Chautauqua Institution and Buffalo's International Institute.
Teacher Lori Raybold says the summer institute is designed to "cultivate the next generation of human rights workers, scholars and concerned citizens."
• An example of an ongoing program is Lancaster Island, which marries Lancaster Middle School's social studies curriculum with modern technology. Students create computer avatars that are able to participate in a series of historic events.
"In terms of enthusiasm and engagement and forward thinking, it's phenomenal," says Marie Perini, director of secondary education at the Lancaster Central School District. "They're more likely to remember the experience of interacting in a virtual world, of visiting Ellis Island as an avatar, than sitting in rows in a classroom and listening to a lecture."
• A Buffalo public school, P.S. 67 Discovery School, has developed an ongoing enrichment program known as Hands-On, Minds-On Discovery. Its goal is to increase involvement by students and their families in the educational process.
"It's about who we bring in and where we go. It's about interaction," says Carmela Botticello, the principal of P.S. 67. The program features regular visits by professionals, college students and even high school students, who discuss their areas of interest and expertise. Frequent field trips are scheduled.
"The background knowledge alone is valuable, and then it gets our students interested," says Botticello. "It definitely sparks their interest."
The five judges who sifted through the 40 finalists for 2010 School Innovation Awards all came from the local education and business communities:
• Sherra Babcock, director of education, Chautauqua Institution
• Kathleen Ballard, executive director, Niagara Frontier Industry Education Council
• Joanne Colmerauer, project director, Erie Community College
• Lori McGlone, president, Coast to Coast Educational Consultants
• Lisa Wardynski, manager of internal communications and community relations, Independent Health
The judges graded all 40 finalists on a four-point scale after reviewing the original nomination forms submitted by districts and schools. Awards were determined by the composite scores for all entries.
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2010 SCHOOL INNOVATION AWARD WINNERS
• Brocton Middle-High School (Brocton): Brocton Review
• Griffith Institute Middle School (Springville): Stratosphere Balloon
• Hamburg Central School District: Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies
• Henry J. Kalfas Magnet School (Niagara Falls): Community Garden
• Lancaster Middle School (Lancaster): Lancaster Island
• Meadow School (North Tonawanda): Classroom Economy
• Notre Dame High School (Batavia): Senior Assessment
• P.S. 67 Discovery School (Buffalo): Hands-On, Minds-On Discovery
• Tapestry Charter School (Buffalo): And Justice For All
• Williamsville Central School District: Poetry, Music, Dance and Art Celebration
2010 SPECIAL MENTIONS FOR INNOVATION
• Cheektowaga High School (Cheektowaga): English in the Digital Age
• City Honors School (Buffalo): Science Research Program at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute
• Eden Junior-Senior High School (Eden): Chopper Class
• Ellicott Road Elementary School (Orchard Park): Character Cafe
• Frontier Middle School (Frontier): Using Solar and Wind Energy to Increase Biodiversity
• Lockport High School (Lockport): FIRST Robotics
• Niagara Falls High School (Niagara Falls): OSC-TV Channel 21
• Notre Dame Academy (Buffalo): First Move Chess Program
• Randolph Middle School (Randolph): Lego Robotics
• Union Pleasant Elementary School (Hamburg): Healthy Living