Mentor Public Schools: Sparking change

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Here’s how the Catalyst Program at Mentor Schools is encouraging new methods of learning.

By Mimi Vanderhaven

In a chemical reaction, a catalyst is needed to spark action and produce change.

The Catalyst Program at Mentor Schools operates on the same premise. It’s an ultra-innovative, high-tech, fluidly arranged model classroom with an observational window that allows elementary teachers to explore new methods of learning.

“Each class leaves its own school from within the district and spends one quarter in the Catalyst room,” says Mike Lynch, who is the director of straight “A” initiatives.

He runs the program along with Curriculum Specialist Larry Luciano. The Catalyst classroom originally opened at Ridge Middle School in 2013. This year, another opened at Lake Elementary School.

An objective of the program is to shift the traditional teacher-in-front-of-students paradigm toward creating opportunities for more blended learning, one in which the front of the classroom is essentially eliminated.

“You may see a group of students sitting on the floor writing on white boards or plexiglass to solve problems or brainstorm ideas, or another group engaged in a lesson on an iPad that the teacher has created using our video studio, or a third group engrossed in small group problem-solving,” says Mike.

“The students adapt well to the flexible environment and enjoy the mix of teaching methods.”

New flexible, easy-to-relocate furniture allows students to reconfigure the classroom in seconds.

And like a ripple on water, the program is expanding; each year the past Catalyst “alumni” teachers share their instructional strategies they have mastered with other teachers. Watching, and learning, behind the observational window could be any teacher from within the Mentor district or others.

“Over the last four years, we’ve had more than 100 representatives from other school districts come observe our program,” adds Mike. “And many of them have replicated similar programs in their own schools.”

“Balance is the key word,” he says.

“We are providing a multitude of strategies for our teachers to choose from to fit the lessons they are teaching. We aren’t just putting iPads in students’ hands. We’re providing unparalleled learning experiences for them to explore.”

At the end of each quarter, students are responsible for a Capstone project. Mike says the students who just finished this quarter produced some mind-blowing projects, such as informational videos about landforms created with green screen technology that allowed them to insert themselves into the video’s locations, such as a plateau.

Another class connected directly with a mystery class somewhere in the world and was tasked with coming up with geographical questions to discover its location.

Look for these monthly stories to cover topics at every level of the schools throughout the school year. The Mentor School system educates 7,660 students from pre-K to 12th grade in eight elementary schools, three middle schools, one high school and one school for students with autism. This column is warmly sponsored by Edward Jones. For updates, visit