A new look at learning: More freedom to explore

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The innovative layout of this classroom at Kyrene de las Manitas is designed to allow more freedom of movement and enhanced learning for students.
– Photo courtesy Kyrene School District

By Diana Nelson

An innovative, new style of classroom learning will begin at Kyrene de las Manitas in the next school year, after being approved by the district’s Governing Board.

It involves a reinvention of the traditional classroom—the customary format where a student sits at a desk most of the day and faces the blackboard with one teacher in the front of the room.

Instead, the new Manitas classroom will be transformed into an open space to allow more freedom of movement for students, while they explore various learning stations with more than one instructor on hand.

The initial program would be limited to 120 students in third and fourth grades, including students with any special needs such as gifted, special education, and English language learners.

It would be housed in a small section of Manitas, 1201 W. Courtney Lane in Tempe, during the prototype years of 2019-20. The estimated cost of $125,000 of the program will be covered with existing capital funds. This school site was selected due to its central location with access to freeways.

It also has the capacity of handle the program, with no new building requirements.

The new educational model is the result of two years of intensive input involving more than 100 stakeholders including Kyrene educators, other staff, and a Design Initiatives Team from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

In a brief video shared during the Governing Board meeting, several of the design team and Kyrene educators explained what drew them to the process.

“I chose to become involved because I thought the concept of designing a school from scratch was just really fascinating,” said Sarah Snedeker, a teacher at Akimel A-al Middle School.

Another teacher, Kevin Amway, from Kyrene de la Colina Elementary School, spoke about the curiosity factor of participating in a process that imaged the possibilities of what education could look like in the future. Some of the team members actually shadowed students during the day to gain insights into their perspectives.

Together, the entire team worked to imagine and to design a new- style of education, which creates individualized learning for students without barriers or remaining in one place during the whole school day.

It also provides new career paths for teachers—as a possible solution to the growing teacher shortage.

“This isn’t innovation for the sake of innovation,” said Kyrene Superintendent Dr. Jan Vesely. “It’s an effort to confront existing problems that require innovative solutions.”

In the new proto-type, three full-time, certified teachers would be supported by a team of additional staff, including instructional assistants, teaching interns, and content-area experts, which could include professionals from authors to engineers.

According to project leaders, the goal is not to surround a teacher with more students, but to surround the student with more teachers.

“Our learners each have different needs,” Dr. Vesely said.

“Instead of asking one teacher to be all things to every student, with this model, we can provide a whole team of educators.”

This concept may reinvigorate teachers and hopefully add to their retention by giving them a new way to interact with students explained Vesely.

While the design process has been underway for two years, Kyrene expects the prototype will continue to evolve.

The Kyrene website states: “Community input and participation is an important part of the process that is just beginning and will continue through the prototype years.

Families and the community have a unique opportunity to help shape the future of the program.”

In fact, the Kyrene District will host a Family Information Night at the main office of the district, 8700 S. Kyrene Road, to explain more about the program.

The session is scheduled from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 4.

More information is available at Kyrene.org/imagine.

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