A 'non-traditional' way to start the new year

W-MU introduces J-term, allows students to learn beyond core classes

GTNS photo by David Hotle

Winfield-Mt. Union eighth graders Alli Humphreys and Isabel Kann show the children’s book they created during J-term.
GTNS photo by David Hotle Winfield-Mt. Union eighth graders Alli Humphreys and Isabel Kann show the children’s book they created during J-term.

WINFIELD — The first week back for Winfield-Mt. Union students was anything but traditional. Some had the chance to learn another language, including American Sign Language. Some studied wilderness survival, while others had the chance to improve and brand the district. It all depended on the student’s interests.

As the experimental J-term, or January Term, is winding down, eighth-graders Alli Humphreys and Isabel Kann have completed the children’s book they wrote and designed, titled “I can be anything,” the book deals with a variety of occupations a student can go into. The goal now is to get the book published or, at least, become an e-book.

“We wanted to do something with pop-out things,” Humpreys said. “We decided it would be good to do that and teach kids about careers. We wanted the careers to be well known and be able to make props with them.”

With the 32-page book in electronic form, the two students spent Thursday making tweeks to the wording and illustrations, all of which Humphreys and Kann created themselves.

During the fall of 2018, teachers, faculty and staff of the district had worked to make the introductory J-term or a reality. While many colleges have adopted the practice of allowing students the chance to focus on one area of study for the first days back from holiday break, it is now becoming more popular with K-12 districts.

“We picked up the idea from some other high schools that have done it,” secondary math teacher Mitch Wachs explained. “It’s an area where we can focus on some 21st century skills or some life skills that might not be taught in regular academic classes.”

When the students got back Jan. 3, they went right into learning one subject for the first seven school days.

The teachers in the district gave the students a survey last semester, asking what areas of study the students would be interested in pursuing, before compiling a list of offerings for students to choose from. Wachs said he believes all the students got their first choice of study. He also admitted the teachers loved the idea of being able to teach things that weren’t as traditional.

Senior Madison Brady admits she regularly talks with her hands. During J-term, she made this more official as she studies American Sign Language. As part of the study, a deaf person was brought to the class — the first one Brady had ever met. She said the study has sparked an interest she believes she will continue in as she moves on to the University of Iowa next semester.

“They are just as big a part of society as anyone else,” she said, motioning with her hands and, in some cases, signing words. “Deaf people are just as important as hearing people are.”

On the board of the classroom she studied in were lists of words, all of which the students learning sign now know.

Wachs believes the J-Term study will return next year with an all-new set of categories to challenge the students.

“There are classes completely geared toward helping animal shelters, students have studied sports around the world, and there is a project downstairs I had never heard of — something to do with a coral reef,” he said. “Right now they are creating a survey for the students’ feedback. Right now the feeling I am getting around the building is we hope to do it again next year.”