The great escape (room)

WAIMEA — Students at Waimea Canyon Middle School didn’t spend their final week of school studying for final exams.

Instead, they escaped.

The inaugural Week of Innovation at WCMS began last Thursday and ended Wednesday. Normal class schedules were thrown out the window as students worked on projects for five days, culminating into full-scale presentations in front of parents and staff.

“It all comes back to student choice, student voice and engagement,” said Principal Melissa Speetjens.

Speetjens said 100 percent of students participated and came up with projects ranging from Hawaiian quilting, writing, editing and producing a music video, designing water rockets and redesigning classrooms into breakout rooms.

“They have to design an escape room and our theme is Habitat for Humanity or Kauai Independent Food Bank,” said Lisa Yamagata, seventh-grade science teacher. “Their goal is to bring awareness to the charities in a fun way through this escape room.”

Student Kierstin Gummerus said she enjoyed stepping outside the usual classroom setting and liked coming up ideas with her teammates.

Eighth-grader Ashlyn Agena said without her teammates, their escape room wouldn’t have worked.

“You have to have a lot of teamwork and work together,” Agena said.

Yamagata said some teachers designed their version of an escape room to give students an example. From there, students took over.

“They came up with a storyline, developed clues, tested each other’s rooms, made the adjustments and here we are,” Yamagata said. “This room was too easy at first, but now people can’t even finish the room.”

Eighth-grader Amelia Styan said having to constantly redesign the room to increase its difficulty took a lot of trial and error.

“Having to change our project once it got too easy was difficult, but this week in general has been pretty fun,” she said.

Speetjens, during her introductory speech in the school’s cafeteria, made the parents aware of the extra effort teachers put in to make the week possible, singling out Lisa Mireles for her role.

But ask Mireles about her impact, and she’ll be first to push credit onto others.

“I’ve basically just been our cheerleader, coaching them all,” said Mireles, secondary school renewal specialist. “I’ve kinda been behind the scenes helping Melissa think through it all.”

When Mireles came on the first day of innovation, she was impressed by the students’ work habits. When she came the next day, she was blown away.

“I came in Friday and I was fired up,” she said. “I saw kids super engaged, up and working, making infographics about the ocean, making storyboards, making music videos and I saw them so excited getting ready for this week. Every room I went in was really powerful.”

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