Walnut High students build worlds in new academic program

Richard Irwin:

We’ve all heard of the Grand Design, leaving us to wonder what kind of world we would design if we were given the opportunity.
Sophomores at Walnut High are taking the time to design their own domains in the school’s new Academic Design Program. It’s part and parcel of the program that asks students to learn through hands-on problem-solving.
The teens aren’t given the answers to their worldly problems, they have to uncover the answers on their own. And so it was with a little trepidation that we stepped into their domain last week.
School officials say 75 sophomores volunteered for the innovative program that has proven successful in other Walnut Valley schools such as Chaparral Middle School in Diamond Bar.
In fact, program coordinator Jennifer La Certe transferred from Chaparral to share her expertise in design-based learning. The math instructor earned a master’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona in integrative studies.
“Our emphasis on hands-on activities really motivate the students. Their interests are piqued when we ask them to do some real-world problem solving,” La Certe explained.
Working in small groups, the students approach unusual challenges that require critical thinking and multi-disciplinary approaches. That’s why the Academic Design Program blocks off the first three periods of the day for these teens.