James E. Dottke Sets a Course for Project-Based Learning

James E. Dottke Sets a Course for Project-Based Learning
Posted on 06/11/2019
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For over 35 years, James E. Dottke High School has been working hard to serve the needs of students that flourish in a smaller school setting.  What began in the early 80’s with a group of 35 students that met at the Franklin Field House has slowly grown to a permanent school with over 250 students.  According to principal Greg Goelz, “Our District understands that the traditional comprehensive high school experience does not meet the needs of every student.  Dottke has been the answer for these students. They have found success with us because we are offering something intentionally different. Our project-based learning approach is key because students want to be heard, but many times haven’t found the voice to do so.  Our students are intelligent and talented in ways that are not always explored in a larger high school.  Like all kids, they want to fulfill their own hopes and dreams.”

Project Based Learning

To meet the needs of all students, the staff at Dottke has been on the forefront of best practices in Deeper Learning.  “Deeper Learning is an umbrella term for the skills and knowledge that students must possess to be successful in the workplace and in society.  At its heart, is a set of six competencies students must master in order to take academic knowledge to the next level -- that is -- to apply what they’ve learned to real-world problems,” says Goelz.  “One way to ‘go deep” is through project-based learning.”

Project-based learning at Dottke involves
smaller class sizes, options for self-directed learning, collaboration and authentic learning experiences that go beyond the four walls of the high school.  “Authentic learning experiences are possible due to numerous business and community partnerships that work alongside Dottke students to complete real world tasks,” says Innovation Coach, Alex Bruzan.  “We believe the best way to prepare students for life after high school is to expose them to situations they will be expected to handle as adults. Most of all, we’re fostering a strong academic mindset in our students.  They learn to overcome barriers in their learning and their life so they can “own” their future.”

Community Partners
As part of their approach to project-based learning, the staff at Dottke have created relationships with  business partners focused on real world tasks. The school provides students with exposure to authentic learning experiences in cooperation with them.   

  • Blood Center of Wisconsin

  • West Allis Rotary Club

  • Library Square Senior Living Community

  • Lamplight Senior Living Community

  • Heritage Senior Living Community

  • Walker’s Point Youth & Family Services

  • Hank Aaron Trail

  • Friends of the West Allis Public Library

  • West Allis Women's’ Club

  • C.A.A.D.D.

  • West Allis Youth Commission

  • LaCausa Respite Nursery

  • Milwaukee Hunger Task Force

Intentionally Different
“Students find success at Dottke because we pride ourselves in doing things differently,” says teacher, Kayleigh Bitters. “We are a group of educators that feel this is how education should be for students.   Traditional teaching and learning methods have not worked for them.” To help meet the needs of students in new ways, the staff at Dottke believes that “it all starts with relationships.”  Staff actively teach and model “respect.” “To get things accomplished, students must be part of the decision-making process. The school community makes decisions together. “We serve the whole child. In education, this means that we examine and serve the needs that students have inside and outside of our school. Our students experience care and compassion at Dottke,” explains Goelz.    

Two years ago, when Lincoln Intermediate School became the new home of James E. Dottke High School, st
aff reveled in having a fully-functioning, well-maintained school building with space to thrive.  “It is an exciting time for our students and we continue to work to make the school our own,” said teacher, Bernie McCarthy.  Dottke is equipped with spacious class rooms, flexible learning spaces, a gym, cafeteria, auditorium, library, makerspace lab, a student VIP lounge, community closet, mindful spaces and more.  Spaces are used in ways that inspire students.

“The Studio” is a makerspace packed full of equipment students use to create projects that connect to their learning.  It’s a place for project-based learning and passion projects that includes 3-D printers, iMac computers, a t-shirt screen printing machine, audio/visual recording capabilities, a spray paint booth, sewing machines, cricut machines, and various art supplies and tools.  Students, recognized for doing great things, can visit the VIP Lounge for lunch.

Student Engagement through Project-Based Learning
Each week there are School-Wide Community Circles held to celebrate good things and set goals for the coming week.  They meet in Crews (similar to a homeroom) that compete for the coveted Crew Cup through fun, engaging activities throughout the year.  There’s an annual Thanksgiving meal that students and staff hold for community partners. Dottke has the owner of Razor Sharp Barber Shop from Milwaukee coming to provide free haircuts and mentoring to students. The school operates a Community Closet for students and their families that is filled with clothing, coats, shoes, hygiene products, and canned goods.

Dottke also offers an array of clubs.  There is a Guitar Club led by a teacher with a community partner who donates refurbished guitars that students work to own. An Art Club that is led by a retired art teacher that meets weekly.  The Girls Club is led by a teacher and part-time social worker that meets weekly with girls to help them become strong, independent women. Yoga is taught by a science teacher certified in yoga during lunch on Wednesdays.  Legacy involves young men that meet with two teachers every week to learn ways to become responsible, independent men. On Fridays, teachers play basketball during open gym with students that have met incentive expectations for the week.

“We hold our students to high standards and we hold ourselves to providing an equal level of support.  We know our students can achieve more than they think they can. We push them to be the best version of themselves,”
says Goelz. “James E. Dottke High School provides a project-based approach to traditional teaching and learning.  We see it how it makes a difference to the success of our learners.”