When a first-grader walks through the doors of Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy for the first time, rather than asking "How smart are you?" teachers ask that student, "How are you smart?"
The multiple intelligences theory on which the charter school is based asserts all students are smart. It’s just a matter of how they’re smart.
The innovative approach to learning at Enota drew attention from the George Lucas Education Foundation, a California-based nonprofit group that scours America’s schools to highlight what’s working in public education.
Sara Bernard, staff writer and multimedia producer for Edutopia, the foundation’s media arm, said the foundation selected Enota to be the subject of a seven-minute documentary to be featured on edutopia.org, as well as the April/May edition of Edutopia magazine. A three-person film crew from Atlanta filmed students in the classroom early this week, and filmed students in action Tuesday at the Enota Multiple Intelligences Fair, where they showcased their smarts.
"We want to tell stories of success to hopefully inspire ... educators around the country to implement best practices," Bernard said. "Enota was by far the most interesting and comprehensive, and one of the only Multiple Intelligence schools I found in the country."
The Enota academy features Smartville, a functional city in the school, which showcases the eight different intelligences of Harvard education professor Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory. Gardner postulates that traditional schools focus too heavily on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, and provides too few opportunities for students who are gifted in art, music, design or social interactions.
The theory Gardner developed in 1983 holds that students can be gifted in many ways. They can be "word smart," "number smart," "picture smart," "body smart," "music smart," "people smart," "self smart" or "nature smart."
Enota became a multiple intelligences charter school five years ago. Hall County’s Wauka Mountain Elementary School is now in the planning stages of becoming a multiple intelligences charter school. In Enota’s Smartville, students take on jobs as bank tellers, post masters, store clerks or pollsters. They use math, people, linguistic and relationship skills, among others, to keep the city operating smoothly.
Bernard said acclaimed film director George Lucas, creator of "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones," is a huge supporter of multiple intelligence schools.
"I think George Lucas is really interested in it because ... when he was in school, his kind of intelligence was never really taught," she said. "For instance, this No Child Left Behind environment is very focused on math and reading and high-stakes testing, which is important, but it’s not the only thing that helps people to succeed in life."
At Tuesday evening’s Multiple Intelligences Fair, students participated in a coffee shop poetry reading complete with cappuccino, subdued lighting and jazz music. After students read their favorite poem, teachers clad in black turtlenecks snapped in approval. Other students showed off their art projects or music and dance skills in the cafeteria.
To develop their "people smarts," students also paraded through the library at the fair, fielding autographs from celebrities such as Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras, Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer, local doctors, and Hall County law enforcement and emergency workers.
Enota principal Susan Culbreth said the multiple intelligences approach gives all students an outlet for expression. It also helps them define their strengths and use their strengths to improve their weaknesses. Culbreth said a math teacher can help a student who is "body smart" to use a physically interactive game to learn math, for example.
"I think the main thing is traditional education does not give every child an avenue to be successful," she said. "We give them more ways to show they’re smart than through pencil and paper. The last thing you want to do is put the light out in their eyes."
Culbreth said all 650 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade at Enota are taught through the multiple intelligences theory. And Bernard said Enota’s state test scores show the multiple intelligences theory garners positive results on standardized tests.
Teachers at the academy say not only is the multiple intelligences approach more fun for students, but it’s also more fun for teachers.
Sara Hayes, 12, is now a seventh-grader at Gainesville Middle School. She was the first president of Smartville at Enota when the micro-metropolis was established.
"I think it’s great because everybody can have their own way of how they think or express themselves," she said. "And I think the Multiple Intelligences Fair makes people feel like they have something to share, and then they can show it."