South Orangetown Central School District

Seniors in English teacher Susan Gleeson and English as a New Language teacher Alex Tsironis’ English classes recently identified and investigated problems in our community and conceptualized a non-profit organization that would provide research-based solutions to address the issues. Their projects included written statements of their organization’s mission, a multi-media informational advertisement and a virtual presentation.

Pollution was a pressing concern for Darlyn and Kate. “The project helped me to better understand the problem that pollution brings to the world,” Darlyn said.

“I started with another topic, but kept seeing articles about light pollution and how it impacts animals and humans,” explained Kate. “One of the solutions I proposed was installing collars on street lights as shields to reduce pollution.”

Reading about the legalization in Oregon inspired Hanna to focus on drug addiction. Her organization would “promote rehabilitation options through social media” and community conversations.

Educating students about college debt and financial aid was a key issue Tanishq and Jake wanted to address. “A lot of people don’t realize that their families can’t cover the cost of college and that they need to research financial aid so that they don’t end up with debt,” Tanishq said. He proposed a website that would help students find grants and scholarships and navigate the application process.

Jake proposed a program that would work with colleges to help students negotiate financial aid packages. “It’d be for families who may have a hard time getting their children to college because of cost,” he noted, adding that he would promote it directly to higher education institutions. “They should want to recruit talent and attract as many great students as they can. This would benefit everyone.”

Tsironis began developing the problem-based learning unit during a two-week professional development workshop offered by the District last summer to help teachers prepare for the hybrid model. “I wanted to be sure that our students could continue moving forward with their research, regardless of whether or not we were in the building,” he said.

Gleeson agreed, “Considering remote learning and the world our students are living in, challenging them to create a mission statement about what they want to change and how that change should occur motivated them to select issues of personal interest.”

They turned to Library Media Specialist Patty Eyer, an experienced problem-based learning practitioner, to provide mini-lessons and tutorials on an array of multimedia presentation tools.

Students appreciated the opportunity to refine college- and career-readiness skills and reflect on how they can effect meaningful change.