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Sisu offers teachers more flexibility with creative curriculum
Creative 1
Sisu integrated early learning instructor Jamie LeBlac works on a geoboard Monday, April 22, 2018, with 4-year-old Andres. The geoboard allows students to explore basic concepts in plane geometry such as perimeter. - photo by Scott Rogers

Standardization has become a trademark of how students are educated. But teachers often prefer more focus on individual students and freedom.

This is true at Sisu Integrated Early Learning, formerly Challenged Child and Friends, where a research-based “creative curriculum” has been established this school year.  

Emily Cohen, curriculum director at the Gainesville child care center, taught kindergarten in public schools for many years. But the rote days wore on her.

“We were pretty much told what to teach and how to teach it,” she said. “So I’ve seen the importance of creative curriculum. It’s not so rigid. It allows teachers to teach to the (individual) student. I would have loved to have had an opportunity like this in my kindergarten classes.”

Principal Carla Baker said the curriculum provides educators with flexibility in how they work with students to achieve goals.

It’s something Sisu had been working to implement in full for several years, but funding and staffing shortages kept it from taking off, Baker said.

But with some grant money, the hiring of Cohen and a renewed dedication to the teaching practice, this became the academic year that Sisu finally found its footing with the specialized curriculum.

“We felt it was important to have a dedicated” staff member to spearhead its implementation, Baker said. “We got comfortable with this being the time.”

The curriculum provides options to maximize the potential of each student.

“It really is just planting the seed,” Baker said.

It’s also a curriculum that can serve all students at Sisu, not just those with developmental disabilities, and Cohen said it helps better connect parents with the educational challenges facing their children.  

For example, a letter is sent home with each unit of study so parents can understand, interact with and support the projects and lessons their children are learning.

“They were able to make that connection between home and school,” Cohen said.

For example, a recent school project on “reduce, reuse, recycle” prompted students to find household items, such as water bottles or paper towel rolls, and use them to create art.

Cohen said the curriculum is available for English and Spanish speakers, as well as those children with special needs.

Teachers are also given more discretion in the projects they choose, how they interact with students and what changes can be made to better serve the students’ needs.

Teachers hope to instill confidence, creativity and critical thinking skills with the curriculum, Cohen said, but it has not always been easy.

Sisu serves children from 6 weeks to 6 years old, and Cohen said the curriculum needs some work to better fit the younger students.

But for 3- to 6-year-olds, “it’s tremendous how they can create connection,” Cohen said.  The new curriculum has also been an adjustment for teachers, Cohen said.

“At first they were a little nervous about it,” she added. “Change is hard.”

But with time, teachers have begun to embrace just how creative they can get with their students in the classroom.

“They seem to be very pleased,” Cohen said.

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