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August 21, 2014 10:00 PM

Customized Learning

Watertown, SD

Some education experts say customized learning is the way of the future.

Students can learn at their own pace and have the option to fit more into their time at school. Districts across the country and here in KELOLAND are trying different versions of customized learning with different grade levels.

With students back at Watertown High School for another year, dozens will have a schedule unique to them.

"I'm really anxious to get started. I'm glad and I just think it's going to be a great experience," freshman Grant DeWitt said.

"I'm really excited about the different opportunities I'm going to get with this,” freshman Jenna Buechler said. “I'm going to be able to go at a faster pace."

Freshman and sophomores had the chance to sign up for a new customized learning program in Watertown this year. Middle College Arrow Academy allows students to work at their own paces through the core subjects of math, science, social studies and English.

When those requirements are finished, students can pursue additional electives, college and tech school classes or internships. Four teachers in the program, one covering each of the core content areas, also help students map out individual paths to their high school goals.

"In college I would like to go into a science career so I would like to definitely get as much science credits as possible," DeWitt said.

"I want to get as far as I can in these years in high school so I can get through and hopefully get into some college classes and learn at a faster rate," Buechler said.

The district put teachers through training. Some involved with the program attended a customized learning summit. Still, it's new and will involve additional learning along the way.

Assistant principal Mitzi Moore expects that to add to the students' experiences as they learn to adapt and solve problems.

"Maybe it's going to take a half year. Maybe it's going to take throughout this year, but I think within this year there are going to be great opportunities to look back and say 'wow, I'm having the opportunity to excel. I didn't know I could do this but look how far I've come,'" Moore said.

English teacher Anita Bach is anxious to start that process, saying if it didn't start now, it likely would eventually.

"This is probably the future of education and how things are going to be going. Our world is customized now and to move education in that way is another natural flow I think," Bach said.

As she starts the year, freshman Jenna Buechler is motivated to work quickly and has specific goals in mind as she enters the middle college. Still, she admits it could be tough to keep that drive going while working at her own pace.

"It will but I think the teachers and having classmates with me will keep me going," Buechler said.

Part of her feels competitive, so she wouldn't want to simply sit around in the work-at-your-own-pace classroom if her friends are making progress. Bach expects students will be motivated because they'll have freedom to customize their projects and assignments to areas that interest them.

"It's more relevant and whenever something's more relevant to you, you have that intrinsic motivation and I think that's what's going to drive the students," Bach said.

The district expects enrolment in the voluntary program to grow from dozens to hundreds in the future and calls the students pioneers. DeWitt is waiting to see if he'll continue to be one.

"It's not like a jail where you can't get out of it. If it isn't for me, I can get out of it but I'm pretty sure I'm going to like this," DeWitt said.

Other schools in the state are trying or have tried the concept. Officials from Watertown have been in contact with them to learn more about the process.

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