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Wauka Mountain teaches kids in different ways
Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy first-grader Sydney Parks, 6, makes a pinch pot Monday during a sculpture and pottery class. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Charting new territory

Many schools in the Hall County and Gainesville systems have charters, allowing them more flexibility. They may be exempt from some rules and policies, and in exchange must meet certain objectives specified in their charter. Today, The Times begins a weekly series on new local charter schools. Up first is a look at Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy in northern Hall County.

All schools aim to create smart kids, but one Hall County school is using what staff refer to as “eight kinds of smart” in each of its classrooms.

“Students aren’t just learning through a test,” said Jo Dinnan, principal at Wauka Mountain Multiple Intelligences Academy in northern Hall County. “If they want to write and perform a song, for example, they have the opportunity to do that.”

The school earned charter status in June, and the curriculum is now based on the theory of multiple intelligences, which the kids call “smarts.” The theory, developed by researcher Howard Gardner, suggests there are eight different ways a person can learn.

Teachers give them kid-friendly names such as “picture smart” or “nature smart.” In many cases, the school uses students’ strengths to improve their weaknesses.

“Their strengths are being nurtured,” second-grade teacher Leah Hulsey said.

Hulsey said her students may produce a number of different projects for one lesson, such as writing a poem or creating a poster if they are “art smart.” Music smart students might sing a rap song for multiplication tables, she said.

In addition to regular math and reading classes, kids have two periods each day for activities that focus on their learning style.

During sewing class Monday, students employed visual and kinesthetic learning to create cloth pouches, which some will use for Halloween bags.

Fourth-grader Jess Chapman was busily crocheting a camouflage-style scarf.

“I’m making it for hunting,” he said.

Students can also enroll in courses for musical theater, Vietnamese, golf, culinary arts and horticulture, among others.

Music teacher Michelle Truelove said students and parents are able to choose their own specialty classes, which is rare at the elementary school-level.

The teachers created and designed the special courses based on their own interests, skills and access to equipment, Dinnan added. The classes run for 12 weeks.

“We have a class for soccer, and our teacher was a well-known soccer play in the area,” Dinnan said. “Our occupational therapist is a stable owner and teaches the equestrian class.”

Another specialty course at the school is community services, Dinnan said, where students develop their interpersonal and math skills. Students can be seen collecting mail for the school post office, as others purchase snacks from the student store.

There is also a student bank, run by the gifted class, where kids can make real money deposits.

“The kids have a savings account at United Community Bank, which they can withdraw in fifth grade or as adults,” Dinnan said.

The concept for a multiple intelligences academy at Wauka originated two years ago, Dinnan said, when staff began to travel the country and research different programs.

Creating an entirely new program allowed staff and parents to ask themselves, “If we were in charge of the world, what would school look like?” Dinnan said.

The multiple intelligences theory was in line with the vision educators had for the school, she said.

“There are opportunities during the school day that they don’t have in other public schools.”

Dinnan said the lessons also don’t end after the final bell rings. After the school day, Wauka Mountain offers classes in martial arts, dance and guitar for a fee.

“As a parent, I ran myself ragged trying to get my kids to different lessons after school,” Dinnan said. “This provides a service to parents.”

Wauka Mountain received charter status in June and applied for a $200,000 charter implementation grant to expand its programs.

Dinnan said she believes the new curriculum has directly improved attendance and lowered tardiness.

“The by-product we’re seeing is an unbelievable excitement for school,” she said.

It’s also boosting children’s self-esteem, Wauka Mountain parent Ken Stanley said of his own kids.

“Some children don’t excel in a traditional school and they have that opportunity here,” he said. “It’s a confidence builder.”