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Case Study: Green Lake School District

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greenlakeAt first glance, the rural community of Green Lake seems an unlikely spot for Wisconsin’s first 4K-12 International Baccalaureate program. But within this small school district, educators and students have created one of the most dynamic and rigorous academic environments in the state.

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About Green Lake School District

The Green Lake School District is a 350 student rural school district housed on a single K4–12 campus. In 2006 Green Lake became Wisconsin’s first K4–12 International Baccalaureate program. The IB program emphasizes rigorous academic programs connected to relevant, real-world, project-based learning.

The district also hosts a grade 7–8 Global & Environment Academy Charter in the building. This district-run charter school emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving skills through project-based learning. The school embraces the themes of global awareness and environmental literacy by focusing on the linkages between the water-based ecosystem of Green Lake and the global environment. A critical part of their ability to undertake the professional development necessary to support both IB and the charter program comes from the federal Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP) grant under Part B of Title VI of the ESEA.

Engaged Learning

Learning is a joyful experience in Green Lake. Students, staff and educators are enthusiastic about their work, as evidenced by their collective willingness to open classrooms to visitors and share openly about current and previous work and activities. That enthusiasm is echoed in the lively halls and walls of the district, covered with evidence of student projects and vibrant art. The pursuit of knowledge is guided by the curricular goals and pedagogical strategies of the International Baccalaureate program. All grade levels have embraced the IB program, and staff have collaborated to re-design curricula to adapt scope and sequence to reflect project opportunities that connect outside the classroom.

Classrooms illustrate a 21st century education in action; students are engaged in learning activities, group projects and teachers are moving from one learning center to the next. Kindergarten classes plan and execute their own field trips – arranging busses, creating the trip schedule and discussing program features with museum staff not only provide students with the benefit of offsite learning, but embed them in critical thinking and problem solving, as well as enabling them to negotiate the world around them. Charter school students research, design and build compost bins to understand the environmental impact of waste, all while learning the design process, negotiating team decisions and then entrepreneurship while putting the bins up for auction to the local community to benefit the charter program.

Technology is present in the classroom as a tool for students, but is not the focal point of all activities. Digital tools work alongside traditional workshop tools to allow students to understand the intersection of design and production. A school garden allows for the real world application of science knowledge and the design principals of mathematics. The school library serves as an extension of classroom centers for applying technology and developing 21st century skills. Librarians work collaboratively with teachers to support research and offer experiences that reinforce that reading and a search in the library can help students develop new understandings of the interconnected world in which they live.

Student-Centered Education

The learning environment at Green Lake is framed around the needs of the individual student. Teachers support students in the development and execution of personal projects that seek to make an impact in their community, knowing that Green Lake has a role in not only preparing students to be college ready, but also to cultivate students as leaders in the Green Lake community. Educators recognize and celebrate student talents inside and outside of the classroom. Despite the district’s small size, students are offered—and take full advantage of—activities in the arts, music, school clubs, service-learning and athletics. Teachers and staff engage students in thought-provoking discussions focused on the applying their learning across domains of knowledge.

A Professional Learning Community

A climate of excellence starts with the district’s leadership, who clearly take pride in the capacity and talents of their staff. Superintendent Ken Bates and Principal Mary Allen share credit and responsibility for all of the good things that are taking place at Green Lake, and place considerable trust in faculty members. Ongoing professional development and a dedication to continuous improvement are hallmarks of the staff’s orientation, and they themselves are nurtured and encouraged as professionals in this environment. Opportunities for peer collaboration within and across disciplines and grade levels are ample and provide an unusually integrated K4–12 curricular experience.

Rigorous, Project-Based Instruction

Green Lake faculty and staff recognize that applying knowledge to real-world challenges provides some of the most rigorous academic experiences a student can have. A heavy emphasis on project-based learning provides the pathways for student preparation for college, career and citizenship.

Encouragement and support for students working to attain the IB Diploma, the curriculum for which requires students to interact and measure themselves against students across the country and around the world, is ample. This globally-oriented environment reflects the world in which students will experience higher education and their professional career.

Collaborations with regional higher education institutions help students understand and prepare for the rigors of higher education. A majority of students are not only on track for postsecondary success, but also find themselves encouraged to be global thinkers and leaders. Students are building 21st century skills and developing a deep understanding of core subjects, addressing their personal growth and the needs of the workforce and the community of Green Lake in the process.

District Profile

  • 350 students
  • Rural district
  • Wisconsin's first K4–12 International Baccalaureate program
  • Focus on gloabl awareness and project-based learning
  • District-run Gobal & Environment Academy Charter School