Greenfield Middle School Recognized for Innovative Education Program

Friday May 17, 2024

Greenfield Middle School in the Greenfield Union School District has again been recognized as a Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Distinguished School, marking the second consecutive year it has achieved this prestigious honor. PLTW is a transformative educational program emphasizing project-based learning in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM), equipping students with in-demand skills by tackling real-world challenges.

Assistant Principal Matt Ornelaz highlighted the school’s substantial progress and the impact of PLTW on its students.

“80 percent of our kids are in a Project Lead the Way in class,” he said.  “When I came here, they didn’t have it, so we started it from scratch.”

Hands-on activity: visitors to Greenfield Middle School’s Science Open House held this week use a tablet to control a sphere robot through a mini golf obstacle course.

Greenfield offers many PLTW courses, including design and modeling, computer science, green architecture, robotics, and more.

This week, the school held its annual Science Open House, an event celebrating students’ achievements on their PLTW projects throughout the year. Parents, community members, and feeder schools were invited to see the students’ science, math, and art projects and participate in hands-on activities.

“It’s a good vehicle for the kids to be proud of what they’ve done,” Ornelaz said. “Every year, it’s gotten bigger. We started in one classroom and are now up to six.”

The dedication of Greenfield’s teachers has been instrumental in the success of the PLTW program. Kristin Mascarinas, who teaches sixth and eighth grade, emphasizes the hands-on, team-based nature of the curriculum.

“It’s different from other classes. I provide the background knowledge, and they try to figure it out after that,” she said. “Instead of relying on the teacher, they rely on a team.”

Mascarinas says it’s rewarding to see students showcase their creativity and become leaders in the classroom. She loves seeing those moments when a child understands a new concept.

“They get so much out of it. I think it’s a great thing that they don’t really get in the general curriculum,” she said.

Students use robotics to create interactive motion-sensing art displays.

Oscar Hernandez, an English Language Development teacher who incorporates PLTW into his curriculum, says the outcomes have been remarkable. Students struggling to learn English are motivated to pass their assessments so they can participate in PLTW classes full-time.

“I have kids who are from another country that have very minimal English, but you put them in front of cardboard and some paint, and they make these masterpieces. I love to see how creative they can be.”

Ornelaz says implementing PTLW required a significant upfront investment in technology and equipment. However, Greenfield reached out to PLTW and Chevron for grants and support.  Despite the initial investment, he encourages other schools to consider doing the same.

“Don’t let the cost deter you,” he said. “There is money for grants. Once you get all the main materials you need, it’s relatively easy to maintain.”

Ornelaz added the benefits of PLTW are immense. When Greenfield students move on to high school, they are significantly more advanced, often with knowledge equivalent to sophomore or junior levels.

“Not only are we getting our kids ready for 21st century jobs, we’re giving them things they normally would not have,” he said.

Greenfield Middle School’s recognition as a PLTW Distinguished School underscores the power of hands-on STEM education in preparing students for a life of success.

“It’s something that is just tremendously going to be beneficial for them, for their future,” Ornelaz said.

Science Open House visitors create handmade flying machines and test them in classroom wind tunnels.

Hands-on activity: students and families design and create handmade buttons.

By Katie Avery

By Katie Avery

Katie Avery joined the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in 2023 as a Communications Specialist. As a former journalist and marketing professional, her passions include media and storytelling. Before joining KCSOS, Avery worked for various local TV stations as well as the health care industry.