BARDSTOWN, Ky. — Bethlehem High School students spent the beginning of January engaged in their own version of nontraditional instruction.
It’s called STAR Term and it doesn’t offer virtual lessons like the NTI we’ve come to know, but instead takes students outside the classroom for three weeks of immersive learning.
Dean of academics Chasity Livers said the program’s benefits are twofold. It offers students new ways of learning and gets them in the community.
“We just wanted to offer them something new after COVID,” she said. School administrators asked themselves “What are some ways to get our kids out in the community, get them hands-on experience, to figure out what their passion might be and figure out what they’re interested in beyond high school.”
They gained inspiration from what other schools have done with similar programs. The result was a course catalog of 17 teacher-designed and -led classes for students to choose from.
From children’s theater to farming, art history to total body boot camp, Kentucky history to ecosystems of Ecuador, Bethlehem students had plenty of choices for their first STAR Term. Livers said students ranked their top four options and signed up as if they were registering for college classes. Seniors had first pick, then juniors, sophomores and finally freshmen. Courses were capped at 15 students.
Each course required students to complete a project at the end of STAR Term. For students who traveled to Ecuador, that project will be in the form of a video highlighting what they saw, learned and experienced.
Religion teacher Gilly Simpson’s “Become a Travel Blogger” class focused on the Kentucky Holy Lands and culminated with seven articles to be published in the local newspaper as well as a podcast.
The first article was published in the Kentucky Standard in early January and Simpson said parents and community members have reached out to him because they’re excited about the series.
“They’re clipping the article out of the newspaper to keep because they think it’s cool and it’s stuff they grew up hearing about but don’t know the whole story,” he said.
“The school opened in 1819, the same year the (Basilica of St. Joseph) Proto-Cathedral was completed,” Simpson said. Catholicism in Bardstown precedes Kentucky’s statehood, which was established in 1792. Students in his course learned the history of the local early parishes, the lives of the early settlers and the obstacles they faced. They studied the religious leaders of the early days in Kentucky, including Bishop Flaget, Mother Catherine Spalding, Bishop David and Father Stephen Badin.
“We want to tell this story to the next generation,” Simpson said of his decision to produce a podcast. “A lot of people know the story but not the details. We’re in the weeds of it.”
He said the students in his course have been really engaged in the history and figuring out how to tell the stories they’re learning about.
“They jumped right in,” he said. “I’ve been shocked with how participatory they’ve been.”
The students also met with Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz last week at the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Pastoral Center to discuss the diocese’s history.
Tricia Payne, Bethlehem’s librarian and information technology director, designed and led a course on cybersecurity to teach students about the concepts, principles and tools of cybersecurity.
Junior Parker Osborne is in Payne’s STAR Term course and said he’s learned a lot about online hacking and security.
“I always thought about doing something for college in computer science and thought this was a good idea to see if I was really interested or not,” he said during a Zoom call last week. “It piqued my interest especially when we had speakers come and talk to us about career paths.”
For sophomore Bill Peterson, the course has already had real-world applications.
“I’ve learned how to use developer tools and edit things on my YouTube page,” he said.
Drew Byerly, a junior, has learned the basics of cybersecurity, how to manipulate code and how websites can be broken into.
“I’ve been thinking of maybe going into computer engineering (in college) so I feel like this has been a good start and practice to see if I would like to pursue it,” he said. He’s enjoyed the course so much, he would consider taking it next year too if it’s offered again.
Payne said STAR Term has been a fun opportunity to teach something out of the ordinary.
“In our regular curriculum we wouldn’t have this kind of time to devote to high-interest topics,” she said. “It’s been great to have time during the school year to take a deep dive into something outside the norm.”