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Back to school, back to reality
by Joshua H. Silavent
Aug 29, 2011 | 3499 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Dan McGee - Students get off the bus Monday morning for the first day of classes in the new school year at Dilworth STEM Academy in Sparks. The school has traditionally been a regular middle school, but this year has changed to focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Tribune/Dan McGee - Students get off the bus Monday morning for the first day of classes in the new school year at Dilworth STEM Academy in Sparks. The school has traditionally been a regular middle school, but this year has changed to focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
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SPARKS – Chris Jones, an eighth grader at Dilworth STEM Academy (formerly Dilworth Middle School), spent a few minutes on the first day of classes Monday trying to convince Washoe County School District (WCSD) Superintendent Heath Morrison that the Washington Redskins pro football team wasn’t worth cheering for.

“You never hear about Washington,” the spry 13-year-old joked, adding that his favorite team is the Oakland Raiders.

Morrison, who grew up near the nation’s capital, laughed off the ribbing, then proceeded to tell Jones about the glory days of Redskins football, when the team collected three Super Bowl victories between 1982 and 1991.

“I wasn’t even born yet,” Jones said with a chuckle.

“Are you trying to say I’m old?” Morrison asked rhetorically.

The humorous, good-natured banter in many ways reflected the mood shared by students and faculty as the new school year kicked off for 63,000 pupils across Washoe County.

“There’s a real sense of optimism,” Morrison said.

Despite a tough budget battle that resulted in $53 million in cuts this year, the WCSD has seen test scores and graduation rates improve markedly in recent years.

But Morrison is not resting on any perceived laurels. That’s why he will be out in force all week, visiting schools across the county, including elementary, middle and high schools in Sparks today.

“I don’t want to lead behind a desk,” Morrison said. “I want to be right out here where the action is.”

Feeling “a lot of good energy, a lot of hope and a lot of promise,” Dilworth Principal Laura Petersen said she was excited to see her nearly 600 students get back to work.

“When you get the students here, it completes the picture,” she added.

Students at Dilworth will see several changes this year, from their uniforms to their curriculum.

The school is beginning its first year as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) institution, the only one of its kind in Sparks for middle school students.

Petersen said the new curriculum would shift away from traditional teaching methods toward “problem-based learning.”

Petersen described the new teaching philosophy as “guide on the side” rather than “sage on the stage.”

The former is about “really giving students the tools that they need to uncover answers,” Petersen said.

Feedback about the STEM program and a large turnout during the back-to-school orientation night last week has given Petersen great confidence about the success her students will reap this year.

“It surely gives us a sense that we’re off to a great start here,” she said.
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