OHS welcomes new Personalized Learning Lab


Rachel Delgado

Comfortably sitting in the new Personalized Learning Lab, Dylan Burnham (9) concentrates on his work on his laptop.

Alternative Academy, once housed in the Witzel Learning Center, has several new locations — and a new name.

For the 2017-18 school year, Alternative Academy, now named “Personalized Learning Lab” and offered to high school students, has moved to its respective high schools — including OHS.
The move occurred at the end of last school year, with the new MOSAIC School of Innovation now occupying the old St. John’s building. The South County Opportunity for the Purpose of Education had to move to Witzel due to the decision to open MOSAIC. With SCOPE in Witzel, the then Alt Academy was dispersed into both OHS and MHS.

“You don’t have to ride to Mehlville,” said Kristen Poelker (11), an OHS student in the program. “And that gives us more time to work, so I actually like it a lot better.”

Students within the program now work out of specialized rooms, with room to space out from other students and to mind their own work. Class sizes are greatly lower than that of traditional classrooms, often topping out at 18 students during normal periods and 34 during a combined block.

With the program now spread out across the district, some are concerned that it has become more difficult for students to get help on specific subjects. “Having all students in all different classes, there’s no real way to prepare for it, except for, as a teacher, to be well rested, well caffeinated, and ready for anything,” Mrs. Loren Widmer, one of the Personalized Learning Lab instructors, said.

The separation between three buildings has made it more difficult for both instructors and the program observer, Mr. John DeWalle, to regularly visit and talk about the program and student progress. DeWalle is currently housed at the district’s Jefferson Barracks building, which is farther from both the OHS and MHS campuses.

“For Mr. DeWalle, it is a little bit more difficult because we all used to be in the same building, 10 to 20 feet from each other,” Widmer said.

With the change has also come the question of whether or not previous and current year students are adapting to the changes. The change comes as a relief for some, mainly for students who were already in the program at Witzel Learning Center before May 5 of last school year. The current room, 233, is the old computer lab B and in-school suspension room. For Mehlville students, it was a little different, having the openness of a library and not the tiny space of a set aside room.

“After about three weeks of school, it seems like everyone is adjusting very well,” said Mr. Mark Sauer, a Personalized Learning Lab instructor based at MHS. “I was concerned at first because it’s a whole new environment, teachers, and structure.”

When the program was held at Witzel, OHS students had to bus from Oakville to Witzel, even with inclement weather. At 10 a.m., students would depart Witzel via bus and get back to OHS anywhere between 10:15 to 10:25 a.m. The switch erased that part of the day for students, removing the need to worry about traffic and getting to class on time.

The change has also added “more instruction time for the students who had to leave early and walk back to MHS, or get on the bus to OHS,” according to Sauer.

With the new year also comes a new learning experience through the Personalized Learning Lab called MyPath.

“MyPath is available to seniors that satisfy certain requirements,” Sauer said. “They choose practical areas of studies that they’re passionate about, are able to leave campus for the experience, and construct their own experience. For example, we have a forensics student who goes to Maryville University’s lab to work with scientists. Another student — passionate about theater — is learning the practical side of drama by visiting and observing other schools’ drama programs, as well as professional groups in St. Louis.”

The year is still new. As it progresses, only time will tell if the switch was beneficial, productive, and worth the time and money to change everything.