Windsor High School students have a rare opportunity at their fingertips, as the school is one of only a few in the country to employ a unique program aimed at enriching students' educational experiences based on interests, learning styles and modes of expression — a program called the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM).
SEM's creator, Dr. Joseph Renzulli of the University of Connecticut, paid Windsor's gifted education seminar students a visit Monday night, speaking with students and hearing about their individual projects based on their own interests and learning styles.
"Everything I do is based on Joe's work," said Carla Brigandi, Windsor High Seminar teacher.
"We started off with an interest inventory, and [the students] fill it out, read it and talk about what they're interested in," she said.
"What makes what we do different from what everybody else does is [the students] actually have come up with an authentic product for an audience. So those who have written books actually went into a preschool or third grade class and read to the students... It's not a book report from Wikipedia. It's something that has meaning..."
Freshman Candice Johnson did just that, writing a Christmas-themed book of mathematical word problems that she read to her brother's class at John F. Kennedy School.
Students like Nyeemah Hightower took a more entrepreneurial approach, as she, inspired by her grandmother, decided to pursue starting her own pastry business, selling cupcakes and treats she made.
While she was successful in selling her baked goods, she learned that operational overhead can get a bit pricey, she said.
Taking interests and education outside of the conventional classroom is exactly what Renzulli's SEM is all about.
"[The students] learn a lot of skills that typically one doesn't get by sitting in class and taking notes, and reading the chapter, and taking the test. (They learn) all kinds of skills that are related to identifying the problem, like designing their projects, solving problems that they encounter — all kinds of skills you can't learn in a canned environment of a regular curriculum," he said.
"Not to criticize that, it's very important," he added, "but at the same time, I think that organizational skills, planning skills, decision making, problem solving... those are the things you learn by doing projects like these. That's why I think this program is so important.