A man crouches down to help a group of students while they're working on computers

Northside Elementary School Principal Scott Hundley and his students are learning new skills through the Saddle Up Midway program, in conjunction with Woodford County’s Portrait of a Learner.
Photo by Crystal Sicard, Kentucky Department of Education

Students at Northside Elementary School (Woodford County) are learning new skill sets that principal Scott Hundley said will advance their education and help local organizations in their community.

“Our goal was to have some partnership with the community while giving our students the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning and performance-based experiences,” Hundley said.

The project, called Saddle Up Midway, is part of the district’s efforts to incorporate aspects of the state’s Portrait of a Learner.

A portrait of a learner is an agreed-upon set of school- or district-level aspirations for what every learner will know and be able to do when they leave school. This gives school leaders and teachers the framework to design instruction in a way that promotes real-world competencies and job readiness.

The initiative began when school officials reached out to the city of Midway for their help in creating a problem the students could solve, creating an opportunity for students to turn their classroom instructional learning into hands-on experiences that emphasize the aspects of the state’s portrait of a learner.

With help from Midway Mayor Stacy Thurman, Hundley said they were able to come up with a project for the students of Northside Elementary School to help the mayor and city council members. The problem the students needed to solve was finding ways to remind those who lived in Midway of the beauty within their city.

“The city council had a mock meeting in our gym and our entire school was there. We introduced our portrait of a learner and deeper learning to the school and then we did a skit where the mayor led a council meeting and enlisted our students to help with this problem,” said Hundley.

Hundley said the project requires students to research, talk to community members, visit areas around Midway and put together a video.

Each grade level has different curricula, so each year students will be able to build on their experiences from the prior school year and continue to grow in their portrait of a learner.

“The big idea is that each year, every grade will be able to explore something different,” said Hundley. “Hopefully, it will be an ongoing project, year after year.”

For example, kindergarten will focus on trains and the horse community within Midway, while 1st-graders learn about the public library and downtown.

Woodford County Superintendent Danny Adkins said the partnerships this project has created within their community through this project-based learning have been nothing short but amazing.

“The kids love it. We always try to talk about giving the students experiences over seat time. An experience is what students are going to remember and that’s what they are going to learn from,” Adkins said.

Hundley said the elementary school has four days a year where they replace their instructional time for Saddle Up Midway days, giving students opportunities to work on these hands-on activities.

By the end of December, 1st-grade students learned about downtown businesses and the Midway library. From there, the students researched each of the services and businesses to create advertisements for those companies to help grow their businesses.

Adkins explains that these hands-on experiences tie back to the portrait of a learner’s skillsets, such as becoming an effective communicator, an engaged citizen and a creative contributor. With each grade level experiencing different opportunities within their community, they will achieve these various skills throughout their time in school. 

“We’re already doing these things in our instructional time, so for us to be able to specially identify these strategies with our students and staff, it makes us better citizens, employees and neighbors. All these things that we are working on in our classrooms translate into being good human beings,” Adkins said.

Robin Taylor, administrative dean for Woodford County, said the teachers and educators have gotten excited about planning these days and setting up the activities; they call it “making pancakes.”

Taylor said it’s all about mixing the ingredients which are the academic standards, and then putting them all together.

“It’s no longer, we teach a standard and then we assess the standard; it’s more how do we put together all the learning to apply that knowledge at a deeper level, and that has connected this idea with the teachers,” Taylor said.

Giving the educators a way to put their spin on this initiative, Hundley said, has helped keep the teachers and staff members excited and engaged.

“We knew a big general area is what we needed to do for each grade level, then allow the teachers some autonomy to make some decisions on which way they go with their instruction,” Hundley said.

Hundley, Taylor and Adkins hope this program will continue to grow with opportunities for the students from the community for years to come.

“We hope that the impact is something that will be seen throughout the community within the upcoming years from all of these students,” Hundley said.