Students give new program high marks

JOHNSTOWN – Two Johnstown High School seniors involved in the Greater Johnstown School District’s new Learning Project recently gave a first-hand account of the pilot program to the Board of Education.

Students Ellen Praught and Michael Swierzowski – participants in the program – gave a presentation at the board’s meeting Thursday at Pleasant Avenue Elementary School.

The new Learning Project pilot program that started this school year involves a handful of preselected Johnstown High School seniors. Jansen Avenue School is the hub of the experimental curriculum involving a project-based learning environment.

The program introduces group-directed, creative problem solving for students, giving them more hands-on work for a half-day, away from the typical classroom setting.

Work to create the Learning Project began 12 to 15 months ago as a “concept,” but was started in the classroom in September, Superintendent Robert DeLilli said.

Praught and Swierzowski explained what the program did this fall, including other tasks, was teach students various aspects of building and operating a windmill. Students also visited businesses to learn about energy usage and built an accelerometer to teach new drivers to be safe drivers.

Swierzowski told the board the students in the Learning Project spend a longer time with their teachers.

“We get a lot more outside help, with expert opinions,” he said.

Swierzowski said the students are interacting more in the community with people they wouldn’t normally interact with.

He said the project also fosters more independence, with the students doing more work on their laptops.

“I feel like I work harder there,” Swierzowski said. “It brings a better reputation to Johnstown that we try something new like this.”

Praught said she has even discussed the project with college officials, such as at the University of Albany. She said the program is definitely helpful for a senior ready to move on to college.

“It’s getting you more prepared for [college]” she said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at