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Students at Townshend’s Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School participate in a 10-week Project Based Learning curriculum at the school on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

TOWNSHEND — A student provided a very succinct answer to why he likes project-based learning.

“I call the shots,” said Patrick Gagliardi, a senior at Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School.

Jessa Harger, director of Journey Away at Leland & Gray, said a pilot program for project-based learning (PBL) started last year on a much smaller scale. Students now have access to more offerings.

Every Wednesday, they work in their respective groups for 100 minutes. They choose which projects they want to be involved with.

“The idea of project-based learning is really about student agency, and getting students able to vision something and then figure out what they need to do to meet that vision,” Harger said. “So it’s very much coming from the wellspring of the student, rather than the top down, teacher giving information to the student.”

Harger said students are designing and implementing projects, and in the meantime learning that a mistake isn’t failure but more information on how to do something better the next time. Students also are “figuring out what is too much and biting off more than you can chew is a very real thing,” she added.

PBL is “definitely unique and it’s definitely different or cool,” said Gigi Birri, a seventh grader in a group on set design, who made a diorama of a dance studio she’s been part of for five years now. The assignment called for the project to focus on what brings the students joy.

In another classroom, students gathered to create their own version of the classic role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Students said they were learning about adaptability, leadership and teamwork.

Dakota Wood, a freshman, said her group is visiting elementary schools in the West River Education District to prepare fifth graders for attending Leland & Gray next year. They’re playing games and answering questions.

“We’re trying to get them excited to come here,” she said. “It’s elementary outreach.”

Her class was the first sixth grade to attend Leland & Gray and students experienced some maladjustments. Now, they’re hoping to make the process smoother for the next group. Their next stop is Jamaica Village School.

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Trevor Hazelton, a junior, said a rocket he’s building as part of his PBL will split into two pieces. He described it being “more aerodynamic” and having less weight so it can go higher in the area.

An earlier rocket Hazelton built did not fly straight and the parachute didn’t deploy.

“So I have to figure out a way to make it so that this one splits apart better and my parachute deploys,” he said.

Abigail Towle, a senior, said she’s drawn to the rocket building PBL because she loves Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Students in a nearby classroom sat in a circle, keeping an absurd conversation involving ants and pandas going. They’re doing improv.

Another group was creating a map for a trail that students have been working on from Leland & Gray to the Harmonyville Store. They received a picnic table as a donation from the Litchfield Homestead and plan to build a bridge.

Meadow Jo Brown McCoard, a sixth grader, shared poetry she’s writing in her PBL group. Her favorite is about friends.

“They’re very important to me,” she said.

In a senior survival class, resume writing and interview skills were being taught. Natalie Sensor, a senior, said the information “definitely would have been helpful” for her when she was applying for two jobs she now holds in coffee shops in Brattleboro.

“My parents kind of taught me everything that they’re teaching,” she said, considering the class a “refresher.”

Students in another PBL group were planning how to fundraise for Journey Away trips to New York and New Orleans to learn about climate change disasters.

“We’re doing it on 100 percent community donations, and collected donations,” said Ely White, sophomore.

In a news release, Leland & Gray Principal Bob Thibault said PBL “engages all types of learners and offers opportunities for every student to develop the skills they will need to become confident and creative thinkers and doers.”