Collaborative and Individualized Learning is Key at Sycamore Academy of Science and Cultural Arts

April 12, 2016

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Noisy classrooms bustling with activity are no problem at the Sycamore Academy of Science and Cultural Arts. In fact, they're encouraged! The student-centered learning environment at this Lake Elisnore charter school started in a shopping center in 2009. The school has now blossomed into a new facility on a 7.2-acre compound, which serves 500 children from kindergarten to 8th grade.

The school was founded by 31 educators and parents, and born from the desire to give a constructivist-based teaching and learning environment, with an emphasis on science and art. One of the hallmarks of this charter school is the teacher collaboration with the students. The school's mission is to offer a problem-based, experiential and collaborative teaching and learning environment, which is realized through the student-centered curriculum.

According to Barbara Hale, principal, learning is not one-size fits all. Sycamore has multi-faceted activities geared to every type of learner. For example, learning a history concept is not simply reading about past events in a textbook. The history day showcase may include a research component, a presentation using posters, website research, drama, replicated inventions and even dressing up in character. This concept carries through to other subjects like science and art.

"Teachers present information as problems to be solved" said Barbara Hale, principal. "We give the students pretend and real world problems to solve. We use pieces of curriculum to develop a unit that addresses the standards through the child's strengths. So if a student is strong in music, math or literature or is a kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learner, we can present their learning that way."

Sycamore Academy is also unique because you won't find single grade classroom at the school. Instead students change classrooms frequently, which leads to a lot of collaboration, movement and noise - all of which are instrumental in the learning environment, said Hale.

The View from the Parents and Students
Students and parents come to Sycamore Academy for many reasons. Some students are successful learners, but are not happy in their current environment. While other are not successful in social situations, and some students are just are looking for a learning environment that's better suited for their personality.

Taylor Bedley is in seventh grade at Sycamore Academy and serves as Student Council President. He is an example of a student who elected to attend the charter school because of its unique learning style.

"[The teachers] really help you adapt to your learning," said Taylor. "I've been to other schools and everything is the same. Here it's based on your knowledge. You are able to get really involved in projects and your classmates. You know everyone. It's more collaborative than other schools."

Bedley describes a typical day in his math class with different levels or learners. "We all work together and interact together, but you can still do the work at your level," he said. "You can ask older kids clarifying questions and younger kids can ask us. We all learn from each other."

Students aren't the only ones who love Sycamore Academy. Parents also love the education their children receive there. Although parent involvement at the school is not mandatory, most parents elect to participate in some form or another. In fact, many of the students have at least one parent volunteering on a regular basis.

Carrie Llado is a parent with three daughters who attended Sycamore Academy. Her family has been with the school since day one, and she loves the way the school operates on a smaller scale.

"I initially had my daughter at a traditional, public school for kindergarten," said Llado. "But I heard about Sycamore and learned about how they work. My daughter is very artistic, hands-on and creative. [So this school] is a perfect fit for her and I haven't looked back."

Llado continues, "I have friends that complain about homework. My kids are not like that. It's above and beyond regular schooling. It's about being responsible for your actions, making good choices and above and beyond curriculum. I've never had problems with my kids complaining about school or homework."

She feels that her daughter will have the best possible preparation for high school because of her attendance at Sycamore Academy and the emphasis they put on oral communication. "One thing that's struck me is how the students always have presented their work since kindergarten," said Llado. "I never did that until senior year of high school. I love that my kids are never going to have that fear of public speaking."