March 24: BRAGS Program

Spotlight on Schools: BRAGS

March 24, 2017 – Hello Black River Falls Community, this is Dr. Shelly Severson with the School District of Black River Falls here to share this week’s installment of our Spotlight on Schools! I’d like to take today’s spotlight time to talk to you a little bit about an alternative education program that is available for students once they reach their sophomore year. This program is called BRAGS. In our recent budget recommendation, we had initially recommended that the BRAGS program be reduced in order to help us fill the over $400,000 budget deficit we have. This past Monday night the Board met to take action on the budget, but in the end did not reduce the BRAGS program.

The board room was packed with students and families advocating for the program. Perhaps you’ve heard of BRAGS? It actually stands for Black River Area Green School. The program first came to Black River Falls as a charter school and was completely funded through those grant dollars. It began as a full time program that students could enroll in instead of attending the traditional high school. As the grant began to expire and the funding was reduced each year until it became nothing, the District reduced the program to 50%. This means that the students currently attend the high school for half of their school day and then BRAGS, which is housed at Gebhardt, for the rest of their day. The entire school was built around the concept of reducing our footprint and doing what we can to conserve and preserve our environment. BRAGS operates around a concept called project-based learning. The premise of project based learning is that the day is not organized into the traditional blocks or hours where you rotate from one class to the next and learn concepts and skills organized by the name of the class and/or department. Instead, students first begin by selecting a problem that they’d like to investigate and potentially solve. They then begin putting together a proposal requesting approval. Through this approval process they go through the standards and identify which of the standards their project will provide mastery for.

The student and teacher then work together to ensure the project crosses across several different content areas. For example, students have done research into how a solar powered well pump would be able to be sustained, the potential energy savings by the sunlight powering the pump, the additional costs of installing the solar powered pump, and finally how long it would take for the cost to break even. Throughout this investigative process, the students will be researching through books, community business resources and experts in the field most closely related to the topic.

As they work through their projects, they are consistently applying higher level thinking skills, honing their english language arts skills, math, deductive reasoning, etc! The list goes on and on. The research behind project based learning is incredibly powerful!

As the students were advocating to the Board on Monday evening, we heard over and over again how they enjoy working with their hands, they STRONGLY prefer to learn through experimentation and the opportunity to use their own interests and passion to drive their learning. Many of the students spoke about how they have linked their inquiry projects to lead them to their future career path. There are some students that attend BRAGS half days and then go to work at a youth apprenticeship site in town. When you talk about our graduates being College & Career Ready…these students are a fine example!

So if the program is meeting the needs of these students, why was it even considered for a reduction? That’s a very logical question! When faced with a deficit of such a significant amount, we truly try to evaluate every single possibility. The BRAGS program has not had a high enrollment, which is what brought us to the recommendation. The Board agreed to continue to fund the program, will hire a new teacher, and will work to advertise the program so that the enrollment increases and more students can take advantage of the incredible opportunities that BRAGS has to offer!

In keeping with our routine this year, I’d like to share another quote from American Education Week. We asked staff “Why the School District of Black River Falls was the right fit for them?” Kristi Pronchinski, the Dispatcher at the Transportation Office, shared this very positive comment:

“The overwhelming majority of employees that I am in contact with throughout the district are real life examples of the fact that this is not just a job. We care about our students, we care about our purpose and we care about each other. We are family.”
As always, if you have any questions about this, or anything else within the District, don’t hesitate to contact me. Thank you so much for your support of the School District of Black River Falls! Go Tigers!


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