WESTERLY — Ideas about what a Westerly classroom and students of 2028 would look like flowed freely from colored markers onto large blank sheets of paper at an engaging “education summit” held Tuesday.
An invited group of about 80 took part. They included a wide range of community members, from educators and town officials to parents, students and business owners.
What kinds of qualities and skills would students 10 years from now need to succeed in a world that will be even more interconnected than it is today?
Facilitator Robert Hendricks posed that central question to the group, split into “visioning teams” spread among a dozen tables at the Westerly Yacht Club. “We want ideas, we want brainstorming,” Hendricks told the group.
Hendricks, a consultant hired by the district as part of the elementary school building project, wanted the teams to get a sense of what graduating seniors of 2028 would need, and also what the school district will look like for the next 10 to 20 years. “You put a brick in place, and it stays for 40 years or more,” he said. “These schools are going to outlast many of us here.”
The night’s workshop was the beginning of a process that would culminate “not in a building, but in a vision,” he said. Hendricks also videotaped the session and said that its outcomes would be shared online at a new live site, westerlylegacyplan.com.
Participants moved to different tables several times throughout the process.
At each table, a host brought the arriving group up to speed and then helped focus the discussion on ideas until it was time for the next group.
Among the words written on many of the tables: Communication, trades, coping skills, problem solving, empathy, digital, and civic-minded.
The free-form brainstorming also led to side conversations about related issues, such as how children are rapidly embracing new technologies yet seemingly baffled by something once as common as a pay telephone.
“My son asked what a pay phone is, because he has never seen one,” parent Meg Sisco said.
Parent Becky Fowler said there was one common priority listed at the three different tables she visited.
“Communication. It’s really the basis of where we all need to start and what we need to do for our kids … we’re all so wrapped up in our technology that we have to teach them these interpersonal skills,” she said.
Leading up to the workshop, about 65 of the participants completed a survey on a range of education issues. Three of the most critical issues identified in the survery were the changing student population, safety and security at the schools, and how to engage students in ways that keep them interested in school.
The session gave the community members the opportunity to shape conversation about where the school district is headed, officials said. “This is very important work,” Superintendent of Schools Mark Garceau said. “We have an opportunity to have a lasting impact on the community.”