HURRICANE – A school unlike any other in Washington County will be opening for the 2012-2013 school year.
Valley Academy in Hurricane is a kindergarten through 7th-grade charter school. It’s a free public school that any child in Utah can attend, regardless of where they live, as long as they have transportation to the campus.
Valley Academy offers a unique focus on technology, performing arts, and social and emotional learning, making it different from traditional public schools and other charter schools.
Ed Woodd, director of Valley Academy, explained the three pillars of Valley Academy’s educational approach.
The first educational pillar of Valley Academy is technology.
“Our plan is to put portable electronic devices in the hands of every student in our school,” Woodd said. “The idea is to create open-source education where kids have connectivity with the Internet. They can go out, do research, and bring information into the classroom. It takes the limitations off the educational process, so they’re not beholden to textbooks.
“The idea for that logic is two-fold,” Woodd said. “One, we want to prepare our students to be successful and thrive in the technological world they’ll be entering when they get out of school. Two, we want them to be actively engaged in the process of learning by making choices.”
The second educational pillar of Valley Academy is performing arts.
Woodd said that all students will be exposed to the performing arts each week in class and that extracurricular performing arts activities will be available after school.
“Many studies show that students who participate regularly in performing arts do better on standardized tests and do better academically,” Woodd said. “We’re going to tailor it to the interests of students. We’ll have drama, vocal and instrumental music, strings, dance and movement.”
Woodd said the school will add additional performing arts activities and modify the performing arts program to fit the interests that the Valley Academy students develop. He said each staff member will bring something to the table – for instance, one staff member used to be a professional trumpet player, two are keyboard players, and Woodd himself has participated in musical theatre.
“Students will gravitate toward what they’re interested in,” Woodd said. “It’ll be an evolving process.”
Valley Academy is not only including performing arts for its cultural value but is also including them because studies show that students involved in performing arts perform better academically.
The third educational pillar of Valley Academy is “Social and Emotional Learning.”
“This is a program that helps teach students more about themselves – not just as people but their learning styles, multiple intelligences, and how they fit into the world … why they’re good at some things and not good at others, and how to compensate for areas that they may not feel comfortable in,” Woodd said.
The SEL curriculum also teaches students interpersonal communication skills, conflict resolution, consequential thinking, and how to make appropriate choices.
“We have some recent studies coming out of neuroscience that give us insight into how kids learn,” Woodd said. “What it shows is when kids are more comfortable in their environment and when they’re more centered in their bodies they’re much more successful in their academic studies than students who haven’t received that training.”
Woodd said that SEL will also improve academic performance and help resolve the problems of bullying and the inevitable “my friends are being mean to me” situations.
“It’s about changing the ethos of the school into positive peer pressure from negative peer pressure,” Woodd said.
About 30 states have adopted SEL programs in their public schools. These schools usually have counselors go into classrooms once a week and teach an SEL lesson for about 45 minutes. Woodd is taking a different approach – every Valley Academy staff member will be SEL certified. The SEL material will be part of the daily curriculum for all students and every teacher.
Valley Academy’s goal is to create independent learners who are inquisitive and take responsibility for their own learning.
“Studies are indicating that for kids to become functioning adults they’ll have to be independent learners, they’re going to have to be fantastic problem solvers, they’re going to need a great understanding of how different cultures interact, and they’re going to need to be technologically fluent,” Woodd said.
Woodd appreciates what Utah’s public schools have accomplished, and he wants to build on it.
“I think the public schools in Utah are really a shining example of what can be done with public education – but on the other hand, they don’t create independence, they create dependence,” Woodd said. “You’re dependent on a curriculum, you’re dependent on schedules, you’re dependent on things the system creates.”
Valley Academy will do something different.
“We’re trying to go in the opposite direction where we’re taking the system away and the kids have increasing choices and direction,” Woodd said. “And with great freedom comes great responsibility.”
Valley Academy will meet state educational guidelines while giving students this freedom, and the plan is to exceed the guidelines.
“(State benchmarks are) a minimum standard,” Woodd said. “To shoot for those as a target, I think, is really shortchanging our children.”
This unique educational approach will also help teachers help each individual student where they need it most.
“There will always be kids who are really way ahead in some areas and some who are really behind in some. As educators it allows us to really work with the kids who need to help,” Woodd said. “The kids who are moving ahead don’t have shackles on them and aren’t being punished by helping their peers who are behind, as it were, which happens in a lot of in cooperative learning.”
Students will also learn the right questions to ask when exploring a subject.
“I can help a student explore physics even though I’m a mathematical idiot because I know what questions to ask,” Woodd said. “The thing is to teach students what questions to ask, not what answers to give.”
Director Ed Woodd’s passion
Woodd found his passion for this new educational approach while working in international schools abroad. He participated in the acclaimed International Baccalaureate program. He saw that the IB program’s unique approach helps children perform far above Advanced Placement standards.
A big reason this approach succeeds, he said, is because it gives the student choices. Children learn better and faster when they’re interested in what they’re learning.
Ultimately, Valley Academy’s goal is to help children realize their potential.
“That’s our goal,” Woodd said. “To create kids who can leave school and thrive in an unknown but exciting future.”
How to enroll and contact Valley Academy.
Enrollment can be made directly via Valley Academy’s website or in person at the Academy’s office located at 1015 W 100 N in Hurricane. Questions may be directed likewise, or by telephone to: 435-635-0772, or by email to Dawn Martin, Office Support Officer: [email protected]
A D V E R T O R I A L
Copyright 2012 St. George News and Valley Academy Charter School
Copyright 2012 St. George News.