CUYAHOGA FALLS — Starting with the 2019-20 school year, high school students will no longer participate in the smaller learning community structures known as “dens,” but some features of the programs will remain, according to the principal.

The Cuyahoga Falls Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved the changes when it adopted the high school’s overall Program of Studies for the upcoming school year. 

The high school’s small learning communities consist of the following den groups: Arts Media and Design Den; Engineering and Entrepreneurship Den; Health and Wellness Dean; and Human & Public Services Den. The school is currently in the fifth year of offering this structure.

During the past five years, when students began ninth grade, they have selected one of the aforementioned dens to participate in during their first two years of high school.

“We’re not going to have that den structure that we’ve had, where all ninth- and 10th-graders [were] on a den team,” said Allison Bogdan, the high school’s administrative principal. She noted 11th and 12th graders only minimally participated in den-specific activities, so the older students will not see much of a change.

In a presentation to the Board of Education on Wednesday, Bogdan said that after reviewing the positive and negative aspects of the dens, she said the administration decided to make changes. While the small learning communities are being maintained for ninth-graders, they will not be den specific, according to Bogdan.

Each ninth-grader will be placed on a team and Bogdan noted the students will go through a schedule where they have some of the same subject teachers as others on their team. The teams would be set up mostly randomly, but also be shaped somewhat by need based on the classes the students are taking, according to Bogdan. She noted she would anticipate having three or four teams, depending on the number of students enrolled.

In the new structure that will begin in 2019-20, the plan is for all four grade levels to have an “authentic learning experience” four times a year, said Bogdan. The goal will be to set aside time in each academic quarter for students to have these experiences. 

“They’re going to be authentic learning experience days of the week where students will choose … different experiences [from each den] depending on their grade level,” said Bogdan.

She added the administration will work on crafting a schedule of authentic learning experiences for students in grades 9 through 12 in the upcoming school year. The experiences will vary based on grade level and there will be experiences offered based on what is currently offered in each den.

A student starting ninth grade in the upcoming school year will have a chance to choose from a menu of options in each quarter and will be exposed to a “wide array of different experiences,” said Bogdan.

“We’ll ask students [in] their freshman year to pick a variety so that they can explore more than just one interest group,” she said.

As has occurred with the dens, business leaders will still be invited into the building to share their expertise with students in grades 9 through 12.

“We want to continue to build those partnerships,” added Bogdan.

Students in ninth and 10th grades will engage in “authentic learning experiences,” said Bogdan, who added 11th and 12th graders will then have opportunities to try specific career pathways. This will include providing the older students with opportunities for mentorships, internships or anything else “to move to the next level,” said Bogdan.

She added that the administration will set up a system where each senior will have a “hands-on, real world, capstone experience.”

Bogdan said school officials spent a considerable amount of time studying the dens. Generally, she said the changes are being made to develop a structure for students in all four years of high school, give students a chance to explore multiple options in ninth and 10th grades, and then focus more on specific interests in 11th and 12th grades.

The goal, said Bogdan, is for each student to be employed in a job, enrolled in school or enlisted in the military when they graduate.

An eighth grade student orientation will take place at the high school at 6 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 28.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.