P.S. 108 implements student- inspired learning clusters

Alexa Thieleke, 9, (l) and Gabriellea Ayala, 9, made their own pizza on Friday, April 24, at P.S. 108. They are part of the enrichment program at the school. See story on page 11.

Nine separate enrichment-learning groups for children at P.S. 108 have kids choosing their own adventure as they participate in student directed learning experiences based around their own interests.

Every Friday, enrichment students in the third and fourth grades at the school use the sixth and seventh periods of the day to engage in exciting, hands-on learning experiences.

Students were chosen for a cluster based on a survey that they took at the start of the spring. The themes of the clusters center around theater and performing arts, environmental issues, photography, learning about the sun, dancing, cooking and nutrition, writing poetry, crocheting, and Bronx history.

“We have nine enrichment clusters which we launched before spring break,” said M.S. 108 principal Charles Sperrazza. “These clusters work to engage students in a different way of learning. Rather than giving them a mandated curriculum, we ask the students what their interests are and we encourage them to create a real-world product.”

On Friday, April 24, Donald Vitolo, the general manager of Uno Chicago Grill paid a visit to the cooking and nutrition cluster at the school, which is called Mangia Bene, Italian for eat well.

Vitolo showed the kids how pizza is made, and with the help of teachers Patricia Zeolla and Sandra DeCicco, the kids made their own personal pizzas. They also decorated their own chef hats. The students in the Mangia Bene cluster will also soon take a trip to Big Deal Supermarket at 1018 Morris Park Avenue to learn about nutrition.

Sperrazza said that unlike a club, the enrichment clusters are action oriented and produce a product or service geared to an authentic audience. The difference between a cluster and many regular classroom experiences is that the learning is student directed and teacher facilitated, and the curriculum is less pre-defined and more free-flowing.

Sperrazza said that the concept of enrichment clusters is based on the work of Professor Joe Renzulli of the University of Connecticut. Sperrazza attends summer workshops on Renzulli’s teachings with his staff.

Sperrazza stated that evidence suggests that test scores go up and attendance increases if the children have something to look forward to like learning clusters every Friday. He plans on working to expand the model at the school.

“Right now there are roughly 200 children in the enrichment clusters,” Sperrazza said. “My intention is to continue to build the clusters. The beauty of this model is that it is highly engaging for the children because they have the ability to work in an area where they have a genuine interest.”

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