Students at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School, with saws in hand, welding helmets on, and stars in their eyes about being on the stage in its spring drama production, are off on a new year.
This is what principal designee, April Bostwick, said about Principal Jay Bidwell and what he brought to his post five years ago.
“Learning it’s not static,” Bidwell said. “There never comes a point at which a person cannot learn so anyone can learn ways to learn better.”
Growth has included creating a new welding class, keeping carpentry curriculum alive, and getting kids to dream bigger in Arts programs.
This is all while maintaining a focus on keeping academic standards on par with state expectations through online content-driven Khan Academy, which sponsored a contest last year, through its back-to-school initiative, that Wewahitchka won.
LearnStorm, is Khan Academy's free program that gives teachers a way to jump-start a school year. It works by, “combining growth–mindset activities and lesson-aligned practice,” driving mastery of core skills, classroom motivation, and student confidence.
The video that was made about the school as a result features reading and ELA teacher Cameron Totman, who along with seventh- and eighth-grade teacher Misty Wood helped Khan write math materials to Florida standards.
“It was a big deal for us to have been in it,” said Bidwell. “Both are using it.”
Totman added, “LearnStorm was more enjoyable than traditional practices and kids were motivated by seeing their progress on the tracker.
“The biggest impact for those who engaged in its self reflection activities, are that they’ve learned the skill of goal setting and that’s going to affect them their whole lives. They are going to be able to keep going.”
In the video, senior Amber Runyon said, “One thing I leaned from the activities is your intelligence can grow just like your muscles and that is something that really stuck with me because I didn’t know that before.”
“The world is going digital,” Bidwell said, “and we need to start finding good resources in schools. Khan has been the first one, that has been a significant, curriculum-changer here.”
Three teachers retired last year but 70-year-old Esther Taunton came out of retirement to serve as a math and sciences teacher.
She has taught K-12 in the district for 40 years and “has more energy than a 30-year-old and has taught three-quarters of the town,” said Bidwell.
On the vocational side, the welding course was brought in by grant funding and as with all if its hands-on programs has a classroom side and it is the aim of teacher Eddie Price to start certifying students with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER).
Price brought equipment from his own garage to get started this year until the new tools are delivered.
Carpentry teacher Eric Bidwell echoed the goal to, “offer as many industry certifications as possible so that students have a chance to start work immediately.”
His program has over 50 kids in three foundational modules.
Bidwell also heads up the agriculture lineup in its third year and says every day is experimental combining science with small engine training and strict testing.
“We want to tune students in,” he said.
Bidwell is also proud of its fine Arts program.
“We’re about becoming a little academy,” he said. “Kids don’t get to see culture here, less than in Port St. Joe.”
Runyon, and fellow senior, Brett Roper, recently auditioned for, and participated in five-weeks at Gulf Coast College’s summer stage.
“It is nice to be at a small school,” she said. “We have more opportunities to be in a show.” Roper plans on attending Gulf Coast and continue acting.
School secretary, Ashley Forehand also reported the first day of games was fun. Bidwell, who encourages students and staff to be active said every year, he challenges the Student Government Association (SGA) to impress him with indoor activities, and every year the students exceed at that.
“It was a fabulous way to welcome students back,” said Forehand.
“I’m pumped up,” said Bidwell. “So I want to imprint that to do a good job, we all have to be 99-percent pumped up, too.”
The next community event the school will hold is a show and meal program by a six of its arts classes, held on Veteran’s Day in November.