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Medford School District to open high school focused on hands-on learning

The exterior entrance to a large store/office building. The entrance is a large, glass and triangular at the top. There are no signs on the building.
Roman Battaglia
Jefferson Public Radio
The future home of the new Medford High School, which was most recently a call center and multipurpose building for Asante

On Thursday, the Medford School District announced the launch of the first of what they call a high school of choice. The school will be focused on hands-on learning.

The currently unnamed school will expand a unique learning model that’s been tested at Central Medford High School for the past year.

Project-based learning blends school subjects together, according to Medford District Superintendent Bret Champion.

“The world doesn’t revolve around these buckets of math, social studies and science and the other pieces,” Champion said. “It’s all blended together and we literally are all living project-based in our everyday existence.”

Principal Cass Thonstad said students are combining various skills such as science and math into the same project.

An example is the learning garden students at Central Medford have been working with throughout the past school year.

“Students are getting to integrate their core content and their elective credits and earn them simultaneously by actually using what they’re learning and applying it immediately,” Thonstad said.

At the garden, students take different soils and examine their nutrient contents to find out why some plants grow better than others. Then the students have been working on building community garden boxes and using geometry to design the uniquely-shaped boxes.

The program has been highly successful at Central Medford High School, according to Thonstad.

A large open office space. There are numerous beige cubicles with computers, desks and chairs.
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The large open space at the new school building, currently hosting the Asante call center. Thonstad says this is just one unique area to host project-based learning.

“Our attendance has been higher than ever before,” she said. “Project-based learning makes them want to come to school. We’ve been asking them, doing surveys and figuring out ‘What does this mean to you? Is this working?’ and it makes them want to come.”

The district purchased a former Asante call center and hardware store in South Medford for $7.5 million to house the school. The funding came from reserves the district saved while they were shut down during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thonstad said having this unique space allows them to tailor classrooms to their specific needs. The building includes a greenhouse, which will allow them to continue their learning garden that students have used this past year.

The district has also set aside an additional $1 million for renovations to the school. But some of the renovations won’t happen right away.

“Our goal is to open in the fall with some space,” said Champion. “We also know because the cohort is gonna be smaller next year, it gives us the opportunity to get into the space and then to make the remodeling fit what the real needs are.”

Champion said the first step is to name the school, which is happening right now with the help of the students currently in the program at Central Medford High School.

Most of the current students in the program are juniors or seniors, so the district is trying to recruit incoming freshmen for the school next fall.

Thonstad said there will be limited enrollment for the first year. She’s expecting around 150 students, including some of the 100 students currently in the program. But she hopes to expand the school up to 400 students in the future.

Roman Battaglia is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. After graduating from Oregon State University, Roman came to JPR as part of the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism in 2019. He then joined Delaware Public Media as a Report For America fellow before returning to the JPR newsroom.