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Chartered

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

New Sioux Central elementary concept offers students and families an alternative in learning

It is a given that all children learn differently. Up until now, all students throughout Iowa's elementary, middle and high schools have had no choice but to participate in the same sort of classroom setting and be introduced to the same materials.

Sioux Central is proving to be a leader in offering an alternative to this method of teaching as they explore the new technique known as charter school, operating through their elementary program. Sioux Central is the first elementary school in the state to try this new approach, beginning this fall. The charter school is located in three classrooms within the school building.

The idea of this concept is to tailor the program to the needs of the student to help increase their achievement.

Rick Roghair, elementary principal, said the program which began at the start of this school year, has been going well.

The program is being financed through a grant from the Iowa Dept. of Education, through the U.S. Department of Education.

Parents of first grade through sixth grade students had the opportunity to apply for a spot in the charter school. A cap of 60 students was put in place and 59 applications were received. (Had there been more than 60 students applying, there would have been a lottery to see would take part.)

Three classrooms are being devoted to the charter school students with four teachers. The breakdown of the students are 20 in the first and second grade; 21 in the third and fourth grade; and 18 in the fifth and sixth grade.

Staff includes a first-year teacher all the way up to one with 20 years experience. Lesa Heschke teaches the youngest group; Melia Thompson is in charge of the middle group and Marla Huebner has the older students. Troy Tham is the lead teacher and assists in all of the classrooms.

It has taken a great deal of relearning for the teachers and the students.

The students now work in small groups and they work at their own levels. During the first two weeks of school, each student went through testing to determine what levels they are at in the different academic areas. Some are stronger in reading, some in math, some in science.

The students participate in "projects" that last from two to eight weeks. The students recently completed their first project titled "community." As teachers, it was exciting to see the students start making connections with the "subject" area they were learning in. Four final projects were selected to do by the charter classes that would could be used by students in the regular classes. They chose to paint a scaled-size model of the United States on the playground blacktop and paint a four-squares game for all ages to use. They also decided to landscape the playhouse located near the playground and paint a cupboard to place their boots and shoes in. Through their endeavors, the students practiced their reading skills, math skills, problem-solving skills. Science skills were practiced during the landscaping and social studies skills as well as math skills were used as they measured the space needed for the map.

They have started their second project, dealing with energy.

Though the students have the opportunity to go about studying in different manner than in the regular classroom setting, it is important to note that the teachers and administrators make sure that the charter school students are meeting all of the benchmarks that the other students are meeting.

"The charter school students have different resources," said Roghair. "The texts are only one source; they're not so confined."

Statewide, all students are to be reading proficiently by 2013, following the "No Child Left Behind" guidelines, but the goal for the charter school is for all students to be reading proficiently by 2008.

There was a great deal of work needed to be done prior to the start of the school year. A group of 28 teachers, parents, community members and administrators had researched the concept. In an eight-week period of time, 5,200 documented hours were put in. An advisory council will meet monthly to discuss any problems and go over the success of the classrooms. Roghair will then share the data with the school board.

The students currently in the charter school may remain in the program up until sixth grade. If there are students that wish to return to the traditional classroom, applications will be taken to fill those slots. There is a chance, Roghair said, that the numbers of participants could increase.

"Not every child fits into this type of setting. The charter school is geared toward the way children learn."

The principal commented that the charter school students are mixed as much as possible with their peers. They share the same recess times and lunch periods. The older students also share band/music and exploratory times with their peers. "We're trying to make the differences between these students as little as possible," Roghair said.

The students in the charter school are also taking part in a Spanish class - taught by the fourth-year Sioux Central High School Spanish students.

The children are excited about this new opportunity and the teachers are, too. Marla Huebner has been with the district for 20 years and enjoys the new concept. "I like the way the kids go with their own interests. This way of teaching is more kid-centered. Sometimes they don't even realize that they are learning and we have to tell them, 'we just did math.'"

Troy Tham, new to the school district this year, said he "can't quit talking about it. In my mind, this is the right way to teach."

Instead of seeing the kids watching the clocks for the final bell of the day to ring, the charter school teachers are hearing their students say, "we don't have enough time." That, the teachers say, is great to hear; it is a sign that they are enjoying school and learning.



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