Niche approach to bring change in some schools

Three-year phased process to add options

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Students at Castle Rock’s Meadow View Elementary soon will see the world through a more artistic lens. The school will shift during the next three years to an artful learning model, a research-based program that weaves arts and the artistic process into academics.

The concept, based on the vision of famous composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, is designed to increase comprehension and academic performance, and Meadow View Principal Patti Magby knows it works.

“It’s using a vehicle that kids have absolutely no inhibitions about,” she said. “It really transforms teaching and learning. That understanding goes deeper.

“We still will have the rigor of our curriculum. We’re just infusing the artful learning and philosophy into what we do.”

Meadow View is among several Douglas County School District neighborhood schools that will change its academic approach in the next few years. Such niche schools, which could choose from among several proven educational models, are part of DCSD’s expanding school choice program. The program started with the voucher or choice scholarship program.

Leaders at each school will be asked to identify their educational philosophy. Some schools will opt to implement a different educational model, but not all, said DCSD Director of Schools Brien Hodges.

“A niche for a neighborhood school could be that they’re just a good neighborhood school,” he said. “I would say right now of our elementary schools, about half of them are going to be themed by the end of next year.”

Parents then can choose their neighborhood school, or open-enroll each student at the school whose educational model best serves their child. It’s all about providing options, Hodges said.

“When Henry Ford created the Model T, you could have a model in any color as long as it was black,” he said. “As we’ve evolved as a society, we have choices. We can buy a Ford, or we can buy a Chevy, a foreign car or a hybrid. Parents are saying, ‘I really want choices for kids.’”

Larkspur Elementary plans to adopt an environment-based education program. So far, the reaction from parents has been good, Principal Michael Norris said.

“We’re not changing what students learn,” he said. “This has been important to stress for our community. As a public school in Colorado, we’re still accountable to state standards and academic testing. All those things remain the same.”

Students instead will draw on their environment as they learn.

The model also is called place-based learning, described as a hands-on, project-based approach that always relates to something in the real world.

“Our setting is going to be an integrated thread in a lot of the things we teach,” Norris said.

Students may use the school garden as a reference point, he said, studying the germination of seeds as part of their science curriculum, or journaling about their work in the garden as they hone writing skills.

“This model gives them the fundamental skills they need, but also opens their minds to be inquiring students,” Norris said.

Teachers at Meadow View, Larkspur and other schools shifting to a niche school model will undergo training.

Hodges said DCSD staff will meet with all principals in July to outline the three-year, phased approach to identifying their educational model.