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Ahfachkee in midst of changes inside and outside classroom

Ahfachkee students prepare black bean quesadillas as part of the 21st Century Community Learning program. (Beverly Bidney photo)

BIG CYPRESS — Change has come to the Ahfachkee School this year with the implementation of more project-based learning and will continue with the renovation and expansion of the school in the next year.

Project and collaborative learning, which encourages students to work together to acquire knowledge and solve problems, is

Ahfachkee second-grader Jaleesa Hill shows
off the cherry tomatoes she harvested from
the school’s garden as part of the 21st Century
Community Learning program. (Contributed Photo)

being integrated throughout Ahfachkee as the teachers are trained.

“We are teaching students to think about the future,” said Principal Dorothy Cain. “Students need to learn how to solve all kinds of problems.”

Another bonus for students is the school’s participation in the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after school enrichment program. The program is handson, project based and integrates a variety of disciplines that help students to achieve goals and use critical thinking skills.

The 21CCLC curriculum includes STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), Lego robotics, gardening, cooking and performing arts classes. Media production, homework help and community service are also part of the program.

21CCLC is funded by a Bureau of Indian Education grant for rural schools. Objectives of the program are to provide opportunities for academic enrichment, offer a broad array of programs and activities and get families involved.

Ahfachkee student Gilbert Guerrero prepares a black bean quesadilla as Owens Mumford and Allied Health program manager Suzanne Davis watch during a 21st Century Community Learning Centers cooking activity in the Big Cypress Health Department kitchen Jan. 24. (Beverly Bidney photo)

Plans are being developed for the school’s existing building to be gutted and reconfigured for prekindergarten through fifth grades and a new two-story building to be built for grades 6-12. Cain has given input to Zyscovich Architects in Miami to assure the space will suit the school’s needs. The open classroom concept, with sliding doors that can be left open or closed, is one she believes will
benefit the students.

“The whole idea of 21st century is about learning differently and collaborating,” Cain said. “The classrooms will have an area to allow students to work on group projects together. Schools in today’s world are being built for collaboration, which mimics the real world.”

Culture will be at the center of the school. The cafeteria, media center, art room, music and science, engineering and robotics labs will be housed in the new building located north of the existing one. Once the plans are completed and approved, Cain believes construction could begin in August with a target opening date of the following August.

“It’s a brand new model of school design,” Cain said. “The population of students could double once it is built. We will offer all the culture, 21st century skills, STEM and more. We will provide the right education and students will come back.”

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Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at beverlybidney@semtribe.com.
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