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New teacher maintains innovation class focus

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Using websites and social media, this year’s goals of a widely known Franklin Community High School class are to promote school spirit and raise money for an Indianapolis children’s hospital.

The innovations course, which encourages students to get real-life experience through projects they brainstorm and carry out, has a new leader and a new class of students. But the focus remains the same: teaching students in a new way.

This year, senior Chris Eley wants to use social media to rally and expand the school’s student section, or Blue Crew, during football and basketball games. Eley would like to study sports management, and he’s working with other students in the innovations course to shoot, edit and post online video of student rallies.

Junior Katie Ott, senior Lexie Elliot and junior Breanna Mann want to help raise money for the high school’s dance marathon for Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. This is the fifth year for the marathon, and the three students said they think if their project is successful that the high school can exceed its goal of raising $40,000.

Both groups will use websites and social media to promote their causes. And they will have the majority of the say in what happens next.

The innovations class was created in 2012 by former Franklin teacher Don Wettrick. Wettrick hand-picked the course’s original 22 students, knowing that they would have to be self-driven to succeed in the class. His goal was for students to learn how to fill needs that had never been met locally and around the world. Wettrick left the high school last school year for another teaching position.

Previous projects included trying to find ways to use solar energy to reduce Franklin’s energy costs and creating tablet-based courses that the school district’s special education students could use.

Kevin Hankins is now teaching the innovations course, which gives students the chance to create Internet- and other technology-based projects. Students in the course still create and carry out projects largely on their own.

Hankins will consider the school year a success if, by the end, his students can explain what they’ve learned by succeeding or failing with their projects.

“Personal growth will be a big thing,” he said.

Hankins, who had worked as a cameraman for television stations since 2007, met Wettrick last school year while helping cover the story of Eric Ekis, a Franklin student whom Wettrick and other students were helping lose weight and live a healthier life. Shortly after filming the story, Wettrick told Hankins that he was leaving and that he thought Hankins should replace him.

Hankins hadn’t taught before, but Wettrick believed he would be an ideal replacement because of his experience in broadcast news. Hankins received an emergency teaching permit so that he could teach the class through the end of last school year, and he’s taking certification courses now to gain classroom management and other skills that teachers typically learn if they major in education while in college. He’s also teaching video production at the high school.

When he started the job, Hankins knew that students who saw and heard about Wettrick setting up conference calls with the vice president of Microsoft would expect a lot from him and the class.

“I think the standard was set very high on the foundation this class had built, and there is pressure to live up to that,” he said.

At the start of the new school year, Hankins’ plan was to support and guide students who had their own ideas for innovation projects and to offer suggestions for others who were interested in taking the course but didn’t know what they wanted to work on.

The most successful students in the innovations class are self-driven, which is why having a new teacher isn’t a problem, the students said. What the students need more than anything is a teacher who can support them by offering feedback and ideas when they get stuck because part of the project didn’t go according to plan, the students said.

“We just kind of have to make our own way. Start new,” Ott said.

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