PLATTSBURGH — Mary Gertsch-Cochran believes there are different ways to be smart.
For some students it’s all about a curiosity for other cultures, for others, it’s all about math or science.
But students in the Plattsburgh city school district were granted less access to that kind of learning when the Odyssey of the Mind program became a casuality of the district’s latest round of voter-approved budget cuts.
The statewide Odyssey program has been around for more than 30 years, and in that time it has fostered enrichment of state-mandated learning by allowing students to explore topics of their own interest.
“Along with what they’re already learning, they’d also do their own investigation and project,“Gertsch-Cochran said. “We tried to touch upon all the different ways of knowing.”
Locally, the most popular aspect of Odyssey was the 15-week-long global village project.
“We’d get 80 students doing research on different continents, countries or states working in groups or independently,” Gertsch-Cochran said.
The global village was more than just a research project— it was a way for students to explore the world beyond the boundaries of the North Country.
Once completed, the projects were displayed at an evening event called the Global Village Celebration.
The Odyssey program is based in part on Bloom’s Taxonomy of Education, which recognizes six levels of effective learning: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
The three types of activities the program employs are designed to enrich student knowledge by incorporating those six levels in a hands-on approach.
Type-I activities are for all students and include Kids’ Press, a vehicle for the publication of student writing and art, and the science fair, a component that gives students the chance to research and display a project of their own choosing.
Type-II activities include the global village, and activities that focus on higher-level math, language and arts skills.They are designed for students who exhibit specific talents in certain areas.
Type-III activities are reserved for students who are considered academically gifted. The instruction is on an individual or small group basis, and is based on the needs of each student involved.
“I think this program was exciting for students,” Gertsch-Cochran said. “It wasn’t just about what they were learning, it was about how to learn.”
Sarah McCarty ran the Odyssey program for Bailey Avenue/Oak Street Elementary School for 12 years.
She applauded the hands-on approach to learning that the Odyssey program provided.
“We’re a team educating these children,” McCarty said. “Some teachers are working on the core, and we go deeper.”
McCarty said personal interest in the Odyssey projects is what makes students want to go deeper, and that the program facilitates success.
“I’ve had kids research everything from fish to rockets to computers to the impact of computers on society,” McCarty said. “If they’re (students) stuck with compulsory education, they’ll never figure these things out.”
Some of the students have gone on with Science Olympiad, and one student, who is now in high school, created apps and is selling them to Apple
“I think this is a terrible loss,” McCarty said. “ I think the district is trying really hard. This is a difficult situation for the board to be in.”
When the school board unveiled its first budget, which was voted down May 15, the focus was on cutting things that would not have a negative affect on students, like switching computer programs used by school administrators .
“The Odyssey program was not included in that first budget, but that was rejected by taxpayers,” Plattsburgh City School Superintendent James Short said. “If the community can’t afford it, we have to respond.”
Plattsburgh’s Odyssey program was the only one of its kind in the area, and since it isn’t mandated by New York state, it had to be considered for elimination.
“The Odyssey program was nice to have, but since it isn’t required we had to consider it,” Short said.
Cutting a program like Odyssey may have helped save other programs, though.
“We had to cut a math and English position, but not the programs” Short said.
It took some work to save the music program, too.
“With music we did a half-teacher reduction but did not cut any programs,” Short said. “We’re stretching people thinner to cover it.”
Now, three music teachers will travel to three different school buildings throughout the day, which will ultimately result in larger group lessons for students.
“It is the teacher’s will to go above and beyond,” Short said. “They’ve asked to do it this way because they don’t want the music program to disappear.”
This is part two of a three-part series on the Plattsburgh city school district’s budget cuts.