Staff, students try ‘J-Term’

ARMSTRONG – It’s not often that students spend the afternoon with their principal, learning how to cook jalapeno poppers.

Or have a teacher spend the day talking about blood spatters.

Or learn what it takes to manage a sports franchise.

But this has been the case for North Union High School students for the past two weeks, as the district implemented its first “J-Term.”

J-Term, or January term, is a project allowing students and teachers to work and learn outside the regular curriculum.

“It’s the evolution of going to the one-on-one with the iPads,” explained Principal Robert Zotz. “There’s a need now for more project-based learning for teaching strategy.”

The goals for the students are for them to research, discover, collaborate and present their learnings to an authentic audience.

“The presentation gives the student accountability,” Zotz said. “Our motto has been, “Failure is not an option.’ So they have to present.”

The main J-Term project takes up most of the morning and afternoon. The topics ranged from a C.S.I. crime scene to the art of grilling.

“There is one, advanced egg-tossing, where the class is actually building trebuchets, and will be competing at Iowa State University’s catapulting competition,” Zotz said. “We also have a class that’s learning how to get their pilot’s licenses, and they will actually be flying. With the C.S.I. one, we have a room that is a crime scene, and they had us play characters, and the students have to solve the crime with forensic science.”

Along with the dozen classes, there was an opportunity for the seniors to have internships.

“About 85 percent of the seniors applied for and got the internships,” Zotz said. “They had two days on campus where they had some training on resumes and interview skills, learned about W-2 and W-4 forms, insurance. Then they will be back to present what they learned.”

Students also had two “skinny” classes of about 45 minutes before and after lunch. These classes focused on hobbies and skills, from yoga and weightlifting classes, to reel time and multimedia projects, to soap-making and chess.

“The skinny classes break up the day, so it ensures the teachers have the prep time they need,” Zotz said. “It also works well with timing for the lunch hours.

Sign-up for the J-Term classes began in November.

“Some classes had caps, depending on if they were co-taught or only had one instructor, or depending on resources, ” Zotz said. “But 100 percent of the seniors and 100 percent of the juniors got their first choices, 100 percent of the sophomores got their first or second choice, and the freshmen, only 40 percent got their first or second choice.”

With this being the first year with a J-Term, the school plans to have a post-survey done, with students to determine any areas of improvement.

“We feel the kids do appreciate it,” Zotz said. “The interns are getting amazing experiences. It’s refreshing, and a good way to kick off the second semester.”