Return to Headlines

Grant funded projects at Haut Gap teach socialization and collaboration

Collaboration is driving instruction at Haut Gap Middle School where it is not uncommon for students to be working together on anything from building birdhouses to taking care of chickens.


Throughout the school year, students in every grade level were active in designing and building projects funded through collaborative grants that take learning to the next level. Many were applied for and led by AVID Site Coordinator/Elective Teacher Robin Smith, a 30-year veteran educator.


Eighth grade Gifted and Talented students designed an outdoor growing area using quadratic equations. Seventh grade students built bird, butterfly and lady bug houses within their ecosystem and habitat units. Sixth grade students will install a Carolina Fence Garden using South Carolina History.


According to Smith, all of these projects involved collaboration towards a singular outcome.


“Not every project is instructional but they all focuses on processes,” said Smith. “However, every project is structured and of high quality.”


Other examples include an irrigation and water table project completed by eighth grade College Preparatory students. Sixth grade Gifted and Talented students designed a chicken coop to scale applying geometric angles. AVID eighth grade students built the chicken coop in a leadership activity and AVID sixth graders raised four chicks that are part of building relational capacity within their flex times. 


“Each core class teaches the fundamentals of any project we take on,” said Smith. “The most important part is the process of working together.” 


Not surprising, the baby chicks were everyone’s favorite.


Sixth grader Noah Dailey loved how young, cute, and little they were when they first arrived.


“I loved watching them trying to learn to fly,” said Dailey.


Rebecca Somsky and her sixth grade friends enjoyed being tasked with feeding the growing chickens and changing out their water every day.


Some students chose to just observe the chickens and their behaviors, and that was okay, too, according to Smith.


Jackson Cowart and sixth grade classmate Cynthia Johnston both enjoyed holding the chickens and taking care of them. For Johnston, it was a dream come true.


This year alone, working with fellow teachers, Smith received $10,000 in grants to facilitate many of the projects. Many of the grants were funded through by Bosch, Seabrook Island Natural History Group, and the American Association of University Women.


Smith enjoys creative writing and grant writing is much like that for her.


“Many of these projects offer high quality instruction, which is the model here at Haut Gap,” said Smith. “The projects also target students in all grades.”


Principal Travis Benintendo said he wants every student to be a steward of the environment. 


“We have an outdoor classroom next to our school garden and we want it to be a living testament to the agricultural powerhouse John’s Island once was,” said Benintendo. “With the advent of gentrification, we feel these grants and projects helps us with our mission.”


Many projects will continue into the summer where enrichment students will install a small garden and set up the school fish tank. 


“It's been quite an adventure but we have provided our teachers and students an opportunity to move out of their comfort zone and embrace some new ways to engage in real life experiences within their curriculum,” said Smith. 


Smith explained that she is purposeful in finding projects that go hand-in-hand with the culture of the Sea Island where gardening, farming, and the ocean play leading roles.


“It is important for the children to understand where they come from and where they live,” said Smith. “Traditionally I would design field trips for the students to go to various places on the island to learn about the surroundings, but the pandemic limited that. So, I found projects we could do here on campus.”

 Student holds chicken

Smith also touted the ability to take learning outside, especially during the pandemic.


Michelle Hammock, a sixth grade teacher at Haut Gap, explained that even virtual students were able to get in on the fun. They had to take responsibility for their learning and complete the lessons with a family member, which created special bonds among them.

 Students with chickens

“All of these students will have some great memories,” said Smith. “I wanted to find something to make up for what was lost last year during COVID-19 when everyone was sent home to learn. Following social distancing protocols my students were still able to play and learn together through these projects.”