College and Career Center introduces principles, projects, pig heads to upperclassmen

Something’s different in senior David Parscale’s route to school: Parscale is headed for the southeast side of town, closer to Haskell University, instead of the northwest. Like all students there, Parscale spends three hours of each weekday at the Lawrence College and Career Center.

Parscale took the Forensics Science course at LCCC, just one of the eight courses the Center offered for the fall 2015 semester.

“We’re learning about why a body decomposes, how long it takes,” Parscale said. “We have pig heads out there, and we’ve been studying them for the entire semester. Some in buckets, some in Saran wrap, a couple were in trash bags. Those were evil.”

LCCC Director Patrick Kelly has been overseeing the center’s ambitious first semester with the goal of providing unique learning environments. The school doesn’t operate off a singular mission, but instead with three “learning design principles” in mind, Kelly expressed.

“ [The first principle] is student personalized learning,” Kelly said. “The second … is project based learning, it needs to be hands on. It needs to be real world. The third … is authentic relationships—genuine mentorship relationships—with adults.”

Every course at the school, from robotics to certified nursing aides, employs these three principles.

“We want to teach a curriculum students are interested in, they are engaged in, that they are excited about,” Kelly said.

For students like Parscale, it was a seminar last year about the LCCC that caught his attention.

“What pulled me in at first was the statement: ‘forensic science, dead bodies and bullet science,’” Parscale said. “I just thought that sounded swell.”

Parscale enjoyed the class and sees himself continuing in forensic science after he graduates.

The second principle, project based learning, means most school activities are part of a larger project. However, there’s one catch: the projects are student-driven.

When students propose a project, they work directly with their teacher and the school to make it fit within the budget. On a busy Friday at the LCCC, Lawrence High School senior Jacob Parnell is working on his Computer and Network Technology project. His goal is to program the holiday lights hanging around LCCC’s commons area to flash in certain patterns. Meanwhile, the Design/Build class is tasked with designing a community library for a nearby neighborhood. The student with the best design will get to help construct the building.  

Because most students are off doing their own projects the entire class period, at first glance it could be said the teachers at the LCCC are very hands-off.

“It looks like on the outside that they’re sort of not teaching or maybe not giving the student the answers that they are looking for,” Kelly said. “Part of that is encouraging the student to be their own advocate. To struggle a little bit as they discover what the right answer may be … The skill we are trying to teach students is how to be good learners; how to learn how to learn.”

The idea of student-driven learning is very prominent in the building. The design of the building resembles a college lounge more than a high school. The commons space is occupied with comfortable chairs, while the walls are lined with private meeting rooms for students to talk with groups and draw ideas on the walls. There is even a foosball table for time in between classes.

“They put a lot more responsibility on you to get you prepared for the real world,” LHS senior Zach Bowie said. “You get to do a lot more hands on stuff here.” Bowie is a current Practical Law and US Government student.

Despite the specific course subjects and student-driven learning style of the LCCC, the center is for any student.

“[Society likes] to put people into categories,” said Kelly. “[But] anyone out there that is looking to prepare or discover what’s going to be next for them is the right student to be going to the College and Career Center.”