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Learning science a different way

By Nate Luscombe

Staff Writer

HOLYOKE Hazen Paper Company, the Holyoke Public Schools, Holyoke Community College, and the World is Our Classroom Program have teamed up for a new initiative to get kids out of the traditional classroom setting, and into a new learning environment.

The new program, housed in a room at the Hazen Paper Company Factory on South Water Street, is designed to teach fifth-grade students parts of the science curriculum covered on the MCAS exams.

Last week, students from the E.N. White School went through lessons teaching them about the water cycle, before embarking on a tour of the Hazen Paper factory, and making their own paper.

The collaboration of the groups aligns the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and Science MCAS test that exposes students to earth and space sciences, physical science, and life science, along with technology and engineering.

The room that houses the program was an old office, said John Hazen, president of Hazen Paper. He said he hadn't decided what to do with the space whether to renovate it, or use it for storage until Nora Burke Patton of the World is Our Classroom came to him with the program idea.

"It's a real-life learning opportunity," Patton said. "We're finding that the non-traditional classroom is beneficial. The kids really come alive in a positive way."

Students spent last Friday working with teachers Michael Kozicki and Mike Jackowski known to the students as "Mr. K." and "Mr. J." They learned about the water cycle, the cycle of life for a tree, and made paper in the afternoon, after lunching on pizza.

"The program is great in two ways," Hazen said. "It's great for a connection to the community, and the employees really get gratification from participating. These kids are our future workforce."

Katie Plasse, a fifth-grade teacher at E.N. White, said the program is multi-purpose. The students learn through concentration and absorption.

"Some students are hearing things they haven't heard yet, but others are getting a good review," Plasse said.

Patton said the goal of the program is to build on the early success of the fifth grade program. She said she hopes to work up to programs in the middle and high schools in the future.

The program was piloted in June, thanks to a grant from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation. The pilot program generated excellent feedback and results, Hazen said.

Hazen Paper and other local companies have donated to the program, with plans calling for the curriculum to be offered to every fifth grader in the city each school year.

The World is Our Classroom is a non-profit organization that "provides the region's educational community with innovative programs that emphasize real-world contexts and inspire the use of active, hands-on learning environments and experiences focused in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics," according to a brochure for the organization.