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School gets waiver for flexible learning
Program will affect 60 Riverbend students
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Nontraditional education might get a new definition for students at the Riverbend Advanced Scholars Academy this fall.

At its work session Monday, the Hall County Schools Board signed a waiver that would increase the flexibility of the academy curriculum. The waiver will be presented for approval at the State Board of Education meeting in July.

"We're not asking for children to spend fewer hours learning," said Sally Krisel, director of innovative and advanced programs for Hall County Schools. "It really seems as if we're asking for a reduction in instruction time, but we're really asking for flexibility for where that instruction takes place."

Krisel said this flexibility includes students being allowed to move on once they demonstrate mastery of a Georgia Performance Standard — whether they have learned the standard in a certain amount of time or not — and project-based learning.

"It allows us on a case-by-case basis to create a learning plan for every student who's in this program that maybe would be in school four hours a day and then they would be with parents or in a group setting," Schofield said.

For example, Krisel said, a student who excels in math and science will remain in the classroom for reading and writing, and then leave class to work on other projects created by his teacher and parents.

These projects, including a service learning component where the student will volunteer in the community, can involve everything from a backyard bottle rocket project to working at Elachee Nature Science Center.

"Why don't we already think this way? Who knows their child better than the parents?" Schofield said. "It's kind of turning traditional school upside down."

The waiver is supplementary to a seat time waiver approved by the state Board of Education in April.

It is the first elementary-age seat waiver in Georgia, Superintendent Will Schofield said. Seat time is the amount of time students are required to be in a classroom.

The program will affect about 60 Riverbend students, 20 per grade level, Krisel said, though not all students might use the opportunity and those who do might not every day.

"It's a small number, but let's start with a small number and make it work, and then we can scale it from there," Schofield said.

Similar waivers exist for older students, such as those enrolled in alternative schools or in credit recovery classes, Schofield said.

The plans for this type of learning have been in the works since the 2009-2010 school year, when administrators at Riverbend approached the school board with the idea.

"We want to be more personalized with our student learning," Krisel said. "Children learn all the time, not just 8 to 2:30."