중앙데일리

Creative programs turn rural school around

Student-focused curriculum raises enrollment

Dec 18,2010
Kim Hyeon-jin, a third-grade teacher at Songsan School in Suncehon, South Jeolla, poses for a photo with her students in the vegetable garden that they are responsible for tending. The garden is just one of the many student-oriented programs the school has implemented over the past two years. By Oh Jong-chan

SUNCHEON, South Jeolla - Students gather for their regular morning meeting at Songsan School in Suncheon, South Jeolla. There are no teachers around and the students talk freely amongst themselves.

“I went to bed early last night so I couldn’t prepare my one-minute speech for today,” third-year student Jo Gyeom said.

The candid confession made his classmates burst into laughter. At that moment, another student started talking about a recent swimming competition and his favorite athletes.

“My country is the best in swimming,” said Seo Seung-hyo, a new kid who recently transferred from Gwangyang, South Jeolla. As Seo blurted out the names of swimmers Park Tae-hwan and Jeong Da-rae, the whole classroom erupted in a lively cacophony of chatter.

During this time, students are encouraged to get to know their classmates, discuss problems and come up with solutions.

This daily ritual is part of a new program begun in March that is part of the school’s broader educational philosophy that incorporates critical thinking and creative learning.

In the past two years, Songsan School has turned itself around. The school, which is located outside of Suncheon, was classified as a “branch” of Byeollyang Elementary School in 2000, based on its declining enrollment. But its innovative approach to education will help it to regain its status as a “regular” school in March. It is the first school in South Jeolla to regain its status and only the sixth school nationwide to do so.

And in September, the school was accepted to the South Jeolla Office of Education’s Rainbow School program, which aims to revive public education in farming and fishing communities.

The person who has had the greatest influence on the school’s new approach is Kim Hyeon-jin, a third-grade teacher at the school.

Songsan School was founded in 1952 and peaked in the early 1980s, when it had 900 students in 17 classrooms. But by the time Kim arrived at the school there were just 11 students and the school was about to close.

So the school, led by Kim, devised a curriculum focused on creativity and individual experience. Teachers take students on history and environmental field trips, teach them traditional folk games and take them to performances on Saturdays. To teach them the value of food and nutrition, students are put in charge of a vegetable garden, where they raise sweet potatoes, cabbages and radishes. When studying math, the students focus on the process leading to an answer, rather than on the answer itself.

The school also created a series of after-school programs that include computer classes, English conversation and samulnori classes but go beyond that to include classes in meditation, jump rope and music.

The meditation class is especially for students suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and students who are being ostracized at school.

One sixth-grader who was being bullied at his school in Suncheon moved to the country so he could attend school at Songsan.

“I like coming to school now since the teachers and my friends here are kind,” he said.

Kim and a group of parents created a promotional brochure for the school called “Toward Community Life in Nature” to attract students to the school.

Now, even students from the city are coming to Songsan School, which has gained a reputation for its student-oriented programs. Although the student body was just 11 in 2007, it grew quickly to 48 in 2008 and enrollment is now 121.

There are currently about 50 students on a waiting list for admission, and three families have moved to Songsan from the Seoul metropolitan area just to attend the school.

Shin Hyeon-jeong and her two daughters moved from Incheon to Byeollyang, Suncheon, in February.

“It was hard to find a house,” Shin said. “There were few vacant houses available and land price has jumped up from 70,000 [$60.58] to 80,000 won per pyeong [3.3. square meters] to roughly 150,000 won.”

The school’s stellar reputation has also helped it attract teachers.

Five teachers from other schools applied for positions at Songsan School in 2009.


By Yoo Jee-ho [enational@joongang.co.kr]



dictionary dictionary | 프린트 메일로보내기 내블로그에 저장