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November 27, 2016 10:15 PM

Freedom Elementary Tries New Way Of Learning


For 94 kids at Freedom Elementary School in Harrisburg, students and teachers don't exist. 

"Instead of students we call them learners and instead of teachers we call them facilitators," said Layla Nelson. 

These learners and facilitators are a part of a new personalized-learning program called EPIC which stands for Empowering, Personalizing, Innovating and Creating. 

The program is revolutionizing the school day, helping every child proceed at their own learning pace. 

"Everything is personalized to us. If you look at Netflix, you have your own tab in Netflix of your own custom line up of what you like to watch or shows you want to use. So everything is personalized to us in the real world, and so now it's really saying 'why aren't we doing that for our learners?'", said Assistant Principal Travis Lape. 

Four facilitators work alongside learners in what are called "studios", rather than teaching in front of a classroom.

The rooms are filled with couches, bean bag chairs and stools. Learners can pick where they want to sit in the studios based on where they feel most comfortable. Aside a 10-15 minute morning group session, learners can freely move around throughout the day.

"I like learning at my own pace and the flexible seating we get. It's better because I get to choose my spot everyday and not having to sit in one spot every single day in a row," said 10 year-old Maddox Plack. 

Another part of the EPIC program is the personal flex area, which allows learners to voice their choice throughout their day. 

Assistant Principal Travis Lape said the facilitators play a large role in the success of this learning model. 

"It really became like putting together a sports team. It was like putting these four facilitators together, looking at their strengths, their weaknesses and going from there," said Lape. 

Facilitator Krista Hansen said she was nervous diving into a new program, but says the benefits are endless. 

"It's the best thing that they can learn at their own natural pace. They don't have to wait for someone; they can move as quickly as they need to," said Hansen. 

While facilitator Tyler Muth has had to improve his organizational skills to meet the varied demands of different learning styles, he believes personalized learning is more effective than traditional classrooms. 

"Just hearing how they can voice what's best for their learning, or what they're working on or what they need help on is great as an educator that they can voice that," said Muth. 

In his studio, age is nothing but a number. 

"Once we get into reading and math, the age level can span from a seven-year-old in a studio all the way up to our 5th graders at 12-years-old," said Muth. 

While some might say the traditional educational system hasn't changed much in the past 100 years, Lape hopes these elementary learners take in skills beyond the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. 

"We're always talking about preparing our kids for the future, but we don't know what the future is going to be for our second graders. The jobs could be different, so we need to teach them the soft skills of time management, communication and advocating for what's best for them," said Lape. 

"I think it's a good shift and we just have to keep that growth mindset open that change is good," said Hansen. 

Change that Freedom Elementary is already embracing. 

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