Shock of the new: Behind the decision to build a new Wahconah Regional

An architect's rendering shows the dining commons in the proposed new Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton. At the polls a month from now, the success of the Wahconah Building Committee's decision to construct a new school might hinge on public understanding of the choice the building committee made last summer not to renovate and expand the existing school.

To the editor:

The pod classroom configuration proposed for the new Wahconah Regional High School has received much attention. Some have expressed concern that such an arrangement could lock in specific pedagogical approaches that might prove to be temporary, unpopular and even outdated.

Since each classroom in a pod is self-contained and fully enclosed, there is no threat to traditional practice. Math, science, history and English teachers can still teach their subjects independently, but because of their proximity, they can more easily collaborate, using their four contiguous classrooms for interdisciplinary instruction. The placement of a smaller seminar room in each of four clusters provides more, not less flexibility for small group instruction and if need be, an additional "private" space where parents and teachers could meet. This smaller space supports a wide variety of instructional approaches but in no way curtails opportunities for large group instruction in other spaces.

The "21st century" teaching methodologies stress the importance of "collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking." These skills are highly prized by today's corporations, businesses and professions" but they are certainly not new and definitely not fads. The pod design facilitates opportunities to develop these skills, but strong and creative school leadership and teachers who are willing to try different approaches and work together to transcend traditional instructional boundaries are also needed. Wahconah has both.

As to my interdisciplinary experience, one of my favorite courses at Mount Greylock Regional High School was Russian Civilization. It included and connected Russian history, literature, music and art. That course played a major role in my decision to become a teacher. I was inspired by it.

Just a few years ago, my daughter Ariel took "connector" courses at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts and found them to be profoundly enriching and enjoyable. These interdisciplinary courses combined subjects that are often taught in isolation.

In the 1980s, Norman Najimy led a summer curriculum team in Pittsfield that designed an interdisciplinary process for teaching and evaluating writing across the curriculum. I was a member of that team. Teachers of all subjects used one approach for evaluating writing and the results were impressive. Interdisciplinary approaches can and often do generate enthusiastic engagement and tangible growth and improvement.

Pods are nothing to fear. They are clustered classrooms that facilitate interdisciplinary instruction. They provide additional flexibility to support but not require such instruction. They expand the pedagogical possibilities without committing a school to an irreversible course of action.

Edward Udel,

Dalton

The writer is a longtime educator.