D-49 OKs Valiant Academy to start project-based learning

February 21, 2014 Updated: February 21, 2014 at 4:05 pm

A charter school that's aiming to become the Pikes Peak region's first to offer project-based instruction for all grades, from kindergarten through high school, will open in the fall.

Valiant Academy cleared the final hurdle last week - a contract with its authorizing body, Falcon School District 49.

The D-49 board of education unanimously approved the contract during its Feb. 13 meeting.

The project-based learning format uses real-world scenarios to teach students core subjects, as mandated by state standards, as well as ancillary topics.

Valiant is negotiating with Hilltop Baptist Church at Palmer Park Boulevard and Peterson Road to lease a former school building on the property, according to William Yerger, one of the organizers.

The school plans to start with 220 students in grades K-7 and add one grade per year until it reaches 12th.

"We want to draw from every ZIP code and socio-economic status," Yerger said.

The appeal, believe the three teachers who founded the school, will be project-based format.

"The project can be in any content area and becomes a vehicle to teach the content, rather than using traditional instruction," Yerger said. "It's amazing what you can do."

For example, Yerger said he ran a two-year project-based pilot program at Skyview Middle School and for one project created an emergency medical unit. Resuscitation dummies helped teach students CPR and intubation techniques, and guests such as paramedics and doctors participated in scenarios that gave way to anatomy, physiology, human behavior, technology, and math lessons.

After teaching for 10 years in public education, Yerger said he heard students repeatedly say that they felt as if their education consisted of jumping from one hoop to another.

"There was no purpose behind it except to pass to the next grade level," he said. "Our kids can test and theorize but don't know how to use or apply information they've learned."

Instead of compartmentalizing content, Valiant Academy will take an interdisciplinary approach to teaching with project collaboration, Yerger said. Textbooks will be replaced with technology - electronic tablets for K-3 and laptop computers for fourth grade and up. Teachers and students will do physical activity together, such as aerobics or yoga, to learn about fitness and health.

Kim McClelland, iConnect Zone innovation leader for D-49, said Valiant's charter application was approved, in part, because of the school's focus on project-based learning.

"Valiant Academy is designed around individualized attention, problem solving, collaboration and the utilization of technology," she said. "We feel it's important to offer our students different options for their educational experiences."

Valiant becomes D-49's seventh charter school and brings the total number of schools in the district to 23. Applications for fall enrollment are available on the school's website, www.valiantacademy.org.

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