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A different approach to learning: IPS Butler University Lab School

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (October 28, 2015) – The debate about ISTEP testing is heating-up again at the statehouse. A recent report said there’s huge gap between ISTEP standards and national expectations. But it’s not all bad news when it comes to education in our state. Some teachers and parents say you can find plenty of local success stories.

One example is the IPS Butler University Lab School, which is now in its fifth year of existence. It’s what educators call a "Reggio-inspired school," a style of teaching first made popular in Italy. Today, there are other early childhood education schools with the same philosophy in the United States, however, education leaders say it’s very rare to find an elementary school with the same concept.

At a glance, the Lab School looks like a typical school, but it doesn’t take long to notice a few things you probably didn’t have at your school growing-up. There’s a chicken coop by the vegetable garden and a “bug hotel” right outside the front door. You can find young students doing yoga together inside classrooms. Leaders at the Lab School say, if you see something different there, that’s likely because students were curious about the subject.

“One of the kids raised his hand and he said, ‘I have an idea, we could have a garden!’ Then the other kids started chiming in like, ‘yeah! that’s a great idea,’” said Marissa Argus, a lead kindergarten and first grade teacher.

“I think a lot of times we impose on children, we think ‘you need this,’ when actually they can tell us, in a much better way, what they want to learn,” said Dr. Ena Shelley, Dean of the College of Education at Butler University.

Now, Shelley says other education leaders are noticing their approach.

“We get a lot of inquiries of, how did you do this and how could we possibly learn from you? We had visitors, just a few weeks ago, from Cali Columbia and we’ve had people investigating from other universities outside of the state,” Shelley said.

“A huge indication of the success of the program is -- it’s a program that seems to have a longer wait list every year,” said Ron Smith, Lab School principal.

“When we say we want education to change, that means it’s not going to look like the education maybe that we all experienced, so you need to be a little more comfortable with what might feel, at first, uncomfortable,” Shelley said.

School leaders have been adding-on another grade each year, which means there’s now 5th graders at the school. Administrators plan to continue adding-on and say eventually the school will serve pre-school through 8th grade students.

For more information about the school, click here.