FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Before the current school year started, Fort Wayne Community Schools superintendent Mark Daniel sat down with WANE 15 and talked about his goal to “bring the curriculum to life.”

The district is doing that in a number of ways.

Most are familiar with the new FWCS AMP Lab at Electric Works, but there’s also the lesser-known 3DE program the district has brought to two of its high schools.

3DE is a partnership between Fort Wayne Community Schools and Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana.

The program originated in 2015 when the national president of Junior Achievement worked with a superintendent at a high school in Georgia to create a program to help the school’s low graduation rate.

Since then, it has expanded to 44 schools across the nation, including the first two schools in the state of Indiana: Snider High School and North Side High School.

Roughly 160 ninth grade students at Snider and the entire freshman class at North Side are participating.

“These kids are going to get a real-world experience starting 9th grade,” Daniel said.

3DE is a program where Junior Achievement of Northern Indiana brings various local companies into the classroom to present the students with different case challenges the company is facing.

From there, the students work in groups to find real-world solutions to the real-world problems they’re presented with.

Through the course of each case challenge, they’ll have actual meetings with professionals from the companies, and sometimes there are competitions involved where the top groups can give a presentation on the solution they came up with.

JA’s 3DE program manager Pat Morello calls it an instructional model that raises student engagement.

“When you make anything relevant, interesting, and fun, students become more engaged. When they get more engaged, they have a way, really, to connect the classroom with the real world,” Morello said. “What we’re trying to do here is let the real world lead our classrooms here,” he added.

Morello told WANE 15 the program does a better job of setting the students up for their futures as compared to the standard classroom instruction many have become accustomed to over the years.

“This, over four years of high school, is engrained, embedded, and teaches our young adults so they are ready day one after they graduate from high school with 21st century skills, it helps with their graduation rates, it gets them into school,” he said.

WANE 15 attended the culminating events for the first five-week programs at both North Side and Snider.

The freshman at North Side worked with Steel Dynamics, Inc. Their goal was to find a local company SDI could partner with to better fill its talent pipeline.

That day, several teachers and administrators talked about the impressive work students displayed in the program.

“We are only in our first few months of school here, and we have already seen major transformational differences in our students and our staff from day one of school up until now in their presentation skills, their engagement in the classroom, and their investment in their work,” North Side’s Director of Leadership for 3DE, Nicole Winans, said.

The school’s launch teacher Tabatha Craig said the students didn’t previously have an opportunity to work on the skills they were learning on that level.

Craig admitted she was worried coming into 3DE because most students spent the last few years working alone or online due to the pandemic., and suddenly they were being thrust back into group work.

“But watching them grow and develop through this first case challenge, watching them build friendships with kids that they probably thought that they never would build, watching kids take leadership roles that were often quiet, we saw a lot of different personalities come out and it was just super impressive,” Craig said.

Craig and North Side’s Assistant Principal who oversees the freshman class, Holly Jones, were both extremely impressed.

“Some of the comments kids made were ‘they’re real people’ and ‘I could do that some day.’ It was really cool to see that through 14-year-old eyes,” Jones said.

Their presentations also impressed Staci Beiswanger, an Employee Development Manager at SDI.

“They were inspirational to us. I tell everyone we took far more away than I feel we gave to the students.”

It was a great start to the program there.

“They’re already excited about our next case challenge and looking forward,” Craig added. “They’re already asking ‘What is our next case challenge? What do we get to start researching? So, you can see the enthusiasm for education starting to build in the classroom.”

The next day, WANE 15 headed to Franklin Electric where the culminating event for Snider students took place.

Those 9th graders were also looking for companies Franklin Electric could partner with to help with their management of water usage.

It was a bit of a shock to some of the students, but several who spoke with WANE 15 said they really enjoyed the program.

“Knowing that we can work with companies and that they might actually take our advice and everything is really cool because that’s not something you would really think would actually happen, especially when you’re in ninth grade,” Snider freshman Izzabella Homan said. “It was really fun trying to get to bond with all the classes, and to, like, see who could win and what you can do.”

“I feel like it’s going to help me be more mature on how to, like, present the item and what it’s useful for and stuff like that,” Niang Dim said.

When the current freshman classes at North Side and and Snider move up to the Sophomore level next year, 3DE will stay with them.

In fact, the plan is to bring 3DE to all grade levels at all five FWCS high schools in the coming years.