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Mount Vernon teaching model connects lessons with meaning
$375K grant provided equipment, technology
Mount Vernon Exploratory School students Axel Guzman, 8, right, and Jarrett Latty, 9, examine photographs of a butterfly as they make a drawing of it during a class project.

Charter culture

Hall County has three new charter schools this year. Today, we wrap up a series that introduced each school.

Though they have desks, you won’t see many students sitting behind them at Mount Vernon Exploratory School.

That’s because they’re engaged in their lessons through project-based learning.

The school is one of three in Hall County to recently acquire charter status, and the new learning model allows students to choose how they demonstrate their knowledge.

“Instead of just learning the standards and regurgitating the facts, we’re teaching them to apply the standards,” principal Connie Daniels said.

The students spend most of their day diving into lessons in a way that has meaning for them, Daniels said.

Math students might videotape themselves explaining how they solved a difficult problem, while an English student might present a book report by creating a radio show or a podcast.

Teachers said they feel the learning model helps students connect with the material because they can work at their own pace.

“They do really well leading themselves and doing what they have to get done,” said Monya Lathem, fifth-grade language arts teacher. “And they all work on different things at different times. They’re able to complete projects in a timely manner, and I don’t have to stay on top of them because they’ve chosen the projects and they enjoy doing them.”

Students break up into groups to complete projects in most of their classes.

Because the students often work together, teachers spent the first two weeks of school stressing the importance of respect and character, which has helped classrooms stay calm and productive, teachers said.

Daniels said the new model is preparing students for life beyond elementary school.

The school spent three years preparing for its charter application and deciding which direction to take.

After interviewing business professionals, college professors, educators and community leaders, the school began to focus on teaching students “the three C’s” — communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

“They’re saying students now are lacking those three C’s,” Daniels said. “They don’t know how to work together, how to talk to an audience and how to solve problems. So it was perfect for us because the majority of our students do go on to college.”

To encourage students to get involved in their education, they are given a voice in almost every aspect of their school life, including the color of the hallways and how their classrooms are decorated.

Each classroom began the year with blank walls. The students told their teachers what helps them learn and what they like to see displayed in class.

An active student council made up of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders is also taking charge of designing how their school looks.

“This is how we’re getting students involved in their own learning, responsible for their own learning and applying their own learning,” Daniels said.

A grant for $375,000 provided the school with new educational technology and equipment, including laptop sets for classrooms.

Media specialist Kristi Crumpton said she has noticed teachers are becoming more comfortable with technology, immediately taking to the new gadgets and wanting to learn more about how to use them.

“It’s awesome to see the teachers grow, not only seeing the students grow,” Crumpton said.