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Chestatee students use museum to exhibit many talents
Children transform classrooms into galleries
Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development student David Lawson demonstrates a buoyancy project Tuesday evening as part of the school’s “Night at the Museum”. - photo by Tom Reed

A group of Gainesville children became curators and took their parents on a one-of-a-kind field trip Tuesday night.

At the Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development's "Night at the Museum," classrooms were transformed into galleries where students showcased exhibits ranging from fashion design to French culture.

The event was the culmination of the school's Seeking Out Authentic Relationships program, which placed students into one of 54 specialty classes that met for 3 « hours each week.

Just after the event's doors opened, a group of girls in black shirts linked arms and skipped down the hallway.

"Come see our performance at 5:15," one yelled.

A few minutes later, the Hot Chilli Steppers filled the gym with a rhythmic beat of stomping feet and snapping fingers, their shoes sliding softly across the floor just before one girl stunned the audience with a pounding back flip.

Down the hall, a puppet controlled by a boy hidden behind a black curtain sang a song about how to properly brush teeth.

And outside, a horse kicked up dirt before a presentation on western riding.

Each "academy" was different, said principal Suzanne Jarrard. But everyone was meant to be career-based in hopes it could spark a passion that may turn into a lifelong profession.

For Tina Vanalstine, mother of Jessica Vanalstine, the night was a welcome opportunity to participate at the school outside of the normal PTO meetings. She said it's been thrilling to see her daughter come home so excited about class.

Many parents equated the academies to their own process of picking courses in high school or college. When students get to do that at age 11 or 12, Vanalstine said, it has a lasting effect on their development.

"It opens their minds," she said. "For (my daughter) to be in the yearbook (academy), I didn't think it would be something she'd be interested in."

For 13-year-old Hanna Daniel, the "Authors & Poets, Oh My!" academy was a chance to feed her passion for public speaking. At the event, Hanna's practice was apparent as she eloquently told visitors about the poetry books and short stories written by students in her academy.

That's one of the perks of the SOAR classes, teachers and administrators said. They build confidence and make the students more comfortable speaking in front of others.

"It's a way for many of us to express our feelings in ways we're not able to in class," Hanna said.

Her academy teacher, Michele Hood, said she's had transformations take place in her class as kids realize the joy of taking charge of their own education.

When the SOAR program continues after the holiday break, the students in her academy have already decided they want to visit nursing homes and help the elderly record their life stories.

"It still is a classroom," Hood said. "It's just not the traditional class. They're learning in ways they didn't even realize they could learn."


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