Complete with British accents, students in Katie Kingman’s senior English class at Ahwatukee Foothills’ Horizon Community Learning Center throw themselves into character as they read from Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”
But there won’t be any cheek-to-cheek greeting in the scene. Instead, the “actors” — all male — give up “high fives” to one another.
Students at the public charter school don’t just sit in their seats for learning. They collaborate with the class next door, read literature out loud, create two-dimensional roller coasters and then commercials to advertise those roller coasters.
Walk into a combined classroom for grades three and four, and you may find 60 students — with two teachers and an aide leading the way.
In other words, it’s a rather busy place.
“They’re not just sitting. It’s part of our culture to keep the kids active, and not just doing rote learning,” said Betsy Fera, executive director of the school.
In the younger grades, students work on their core academics — like reading, writing and math — in the morning. Then, the afternoons are spent putting what they’ve learned into practice, said Melissa Hartley, director of community relations and a teacher for the school.
Four times a year, the K-6 classes present their projects to their teachers and community during evenings dubbed “summatives.” Seventh- and eighth-graders do it twice a year.
Though the class sizes seem a bit overwhelming upon looking into a class, there’s a hidden benefit, Hartley said: Students can learn at their level.
“In having so many teachers in a class that size, they can get down to group work at ability level,” she said. That way, if a third-grader is actually ready for fourth-grade math, he or she can get that training.
In the secondary wing of the school, seventh- through 12th-graders find signs on the walls reminding them of what subject will be taught during that day’s voluntary after-school study session. Each day of the week, a different topic is tackled by the teachers, Fera said.
Teachers also participate in twice-a-week professional growth opportunities, she said.
The charter school opened in 1996 and moved to its current location in 1999. There are 1,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, with additional students on campus for the school’s private pre-kindergarten program that’s tuition-based.
Most students select band or choir as an elective.
“Performing arts is a big part of our campus,” Hartley said.
So much so that when 200 students auditioned to take part in the fall theater production, the staff decided to put on two separate shows to allow as many children as possible a chance to participate.
The school’s next goal is to bring in more technology. Last year, fundraising allowed every classroom to be outfitted with a projector. Fera said the school also purchased three iPads to give teachers a chance to see how they may be integrated into teaching. An eBay fundraiser this fall may lead to the purchase of more technology, she said.
It’s a popular campus, with waiting lists in all grades, Hartley said. Informational meetings will begin in November for next year’s enrollment. A lottery will be held in the spring.
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