Proposed 'Lab Schools' program between U-M and Ann Arbor schools to be developed in next year
Year-round schooling, a more personalized learning experience and growth for certified and prospective teachers alike are among the plans for a “lab schools” program proposed today by Ann Arbor school officials.
The project — a partnership between Ann Arbor Public Schools and the University of Michigan School of Education — is planned for Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle schools and would create a more integrated K-8 campus, officials say. The program would allow for intern teachers from U-M to work with students at the schools before, during and after school hours.
Scarlett principal Gerald Vazquez said the proposed plan is a great opportunity for the schools, district and university to form a mutually beneficial relationship. He said the program could make the campus a “hub” of its neighborhood.
“I would love it to be a full-service school and serve the southeast community,” he said. “I want to meet the needs of not just the kids that attend Scarlett and Mitchell, but the entire community.”
Vazquez and Mitchell Principal Kathy Scarnecchia were among the school officials who gave members of the Ann Arbor schools board's Performance Committee an update on the project Tuesday morning. Scarnecchia stressed officials are currently operating without a timeline, but Superintendent Todd Roberts said the goal is to have the program up and running by the fall of 2011.
Roberts said the program would be similar to the district’s summer learning institute, where a certified Ann Arbor teacher works with a pre-student teaching U-M student and a younger U-M student in a classroom with students. He said the program would not only benefit students, but district teachers as well.
“We’re not only improving U of M students’ teaching skills, but it’s an opportunity for us to think about how we can improve our teachers,” Roberts said.
Roberts said the proposed program should be "resource neutral" for the district.
A key feature of the lab schools project is a focus on continuous learning and the development of a year-round academic calendar. In addition to the normal school year, the new model could include “strategically placed three-week inter-sessions,” a document provided by the board stated.
Vazquez said this type of system could potentially have a major effect on the much-discussed achievement gap in the district between white and black students. He said the year-round model wouldn't allow for a gap because there would be constant learning occurring for students, reducing the effect summer vacation can have on students’ ability to recall information.
“We can pre-teach and re-teach and enrich in a way that it basically doesn’t allow them to have a gap,” he said. “That would be the hope.”
U-M Associate Professor Catherine Reischl, who is coordinating the program with Ann Arbor schools, said she is expecting it to be a long-term staple of the School of Education's curriculum and of the Scarlett-Mitchell environment. She said it's currently being planned for three to five years.
"The key is all about collaboration and growth for everybody involved," Reischl said. "We're looking forward to really studying what we're doing with teachers to improve how we learn and grow professionally."
Reischl emphasized the university will continue to work with Ann Arbor schools other than Scarlett and Mitchell to place student teachers.
Board members reacted favorably to the proposed plan.
Secretary Glenn Nelson said the lab schools concept would enhance the ability for students to have a more personalized learning experience by working with more teachers. He said it was important to emphasize what students are good at, and having a more personalized learning environment would allow for that to happen.
“Sometimes we think our job in education is to find what a student is worst at and fix it as opposed to saying let’s emphasize (what they’re best at),” Nelson said. “We should be finding those talents in kids and making them into something that will serve them well the rest of their life, uncovering the gemstones in all these kids is what we’re really looking for.”
Trustee Andy Thomas said he thought the lab school program would be a great way to continue working with the university, a relationship he believes hasn't been used to the full extent in recent years.
Thomas echoed Vazquez’s thoughts, saying the program could be another step toward closing the achievement gap.
“We’ve been looking for ‘The Answer’ and there is no ‘The Answer,’ there’s lots of little answers,” he said. “One of the approaches that is going to be key is finding the personalized learning, the idea that students need to be addressed individually as to what their learning process is and where they’re struggling.”
Kyle Feldscher covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.