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Charter status brings new classes to Spout Springs
Students can learn about cupcakes, gardening and more
Gracie Strickland, 6, a first-grader, paints broccoli to use as a stamp Wednesday during a Little Picassos enrichment cluster. at Spout Springs School of Enrichment in Flowery Branch. The clusters, which are not graded, were developed in order to allow students to pursue their interests. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Students at Spout Springs School of Enrichment study a lot of things.

They have reading and math, writing and physical education. But they’ve also got marine science, medieval studies, painting and American sign language, just to name a few.

The new subjects are part of Spout Springs’ new charter for the 2011 school year, which took student interest surveys to create enrichment clusters.

“As the teachers are developing their enrichment clusters, their interest is important but we look at students first,” said Steve McDaniel, Spout Springs principal. “We have some focused on animals, some on the ocean, some on making things.”

Several enrichment clusters focus on food.

“The kids love it,” said Amy Erickson, a fourth-grade teacher at Spout Springs who is in charge of two cupcake enrichment clusters. “They watch ‘Cake Boss’ and all those shows at home.”

Enrichment clusters meet once a week for a nine-week period. They don’t use grades or lesson plans, but are driven completely by what students want to do.

With the cupcake clusters, for example, some students wanted to decorate, others to bake.

The school piloted an enrichment cluster program this spring.

“We learned a number of things about when to do them, how long to do them and how to do them better. We wanted to do a pilot to get the kinks out,” McDaniel said. “We learned the groups back in the spring were too big. It might be OK to have 40 or 50 for some … but for most of the clusters we found it was effective to keep them 20 or less.”

The clusters meet every Wednesday for 75 minutes. Each cluster has to create a final product, performance or service project as a culminating task. The final projects will be displayed at a showcase on Dec. 1, Erickson said.

Most of the clusters are multi-age. Some have kindergarten, first and second grade, while others are specialized for the upper grades only. Enrichment clusters with mentoring opportunities might contain students at all ages, McDaniel said.

The clusters are even influencing how teachers instruct in the regular classroom setting.

“Teachers are teaching more like the enrichment clusters,” Erickson said. “At least in my classroom we’re doing a lot more student-centered activities because we see how the students are engaged.”

Third grade teacher Julie Angel didn’t know much about baking before she took over a cupcakes enrichment cluster.

When she found out she was teaching it, she took classes to learn how to teach her kids about fondant, baking and decorating the trendy treats.

Ronya Churchwell, a fourth and fifth-grade teacher, is also working in the cupcakes cluster. She said just because students are baking doesn’t mean they’re not learning a traditional curriculum.

“They’re learning math and reading by doing measurements and using recipes,” Churchwell said.

For the kickoff day of the clusters, Charles Barrett, executive pastry chef for A Legendary Event in Atlanta, showed kids how to make turtle and bird cupcakes.

“It’s kind of hard sometimes, when you see the finished product, how to visualize where that comes from,” Barrett said.

“Yesterday I rolled the fondant balls and cones and I had kids assemble them today … Like the tails on the birds are simple triangles, but if you put a loop in the skinny end they become tails.”

He was also demonstrating how to use tools to add texture and character to the cakes.

Angel said the students won’t be eating cupcakes every week. Instead, they’ll be baking them to sell after enrichment clusters, at the school’s fall festival and to donate to homeless shelters and other charities around the community.

John Collins with the Georgia Master Gardeners spent the morning showing his Junior Master Gardeners cluster how to make vermicompost, which is compost piles with worms that break down food scraps into fertilizer.

“We start with this wet paper and then put soil in it. Then you put food scraps in it, and that’s really all you have to do,” he said.

Throughout the nine weeks, students will take care of their compost and learn about all sorts of garden-related topics, include leaves, trees and root types.

“I like this cluster because I love gardening. I don’t have a big garden, but it’s fun to do and get dirty,” said third-grader Caleb Zeiler, 8.

Kasey Denney and Gracie Strickland, both 6-year-old first-graders, are in the Little Picassos cluster.

“I’m a good painter,” Denney said. “I like red, green and yellow.”

The students were making stamps out of painted fruits and vegetables.

“I’m painting broccoli,” Strickland said. “It’s better than eating them.”