Unique Austin charter school promotes hands-on learning




Posted on March 24, 2014 at 9:45 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- A twist in traditional education is gaining recognition in Austin.

At Austin Discovery School in East Austin the lessons come to life. The classrooms aren't typical. There are no cinder block walls. There's no tile floor. There's no roof overheard.

Last week a group of fourth grade students went to the school's garden. They measured the plots of soil and recorded those numbers.

"You can just round up to the nearest whole number. Does that make sense?" asked their teacher.

It was a lesson in perimeter and area, part of the TEKS required curriculum.

"They're students and kids at the same time. You can't separate that," said parent Ryan Jones.

The Jones family says this way of learning is working for their son and daughter, who attend A.D.S.

"They feel that this is their second family," explained Jones.

The idea at A.D.S. is to teach through doing.

"We're not looking for quiet rooms. We not looking for any kind of form, really, except that they're active and they're social," said Principal Bill Luna.

Luna says his teachers are encouraged to find lesson plans that aren't on a piece of paper, but rather something tangible. That twist on education is the foundation for A.D.S.

"It's pretty common sense to me," said co-founder Kyle Holder.

Holder created the school in 2005 as an alternative to what he saw in the average public school.

"Instead of teaching to the test, drill and kill and all that," explained Holder.

That first year, Austin Discovery School enrolled 140 students in grades kindergarten through sixth. Now there are 370. And now there are plans for an expansion.

In the 2014-2015 school year, A.D.S. will begin offering seventh grade. They plan to expand again the following year to include eighth grade.

"It's an innovative, unique approach, but I hope it's not innovative and unique forever. I hope other schools catch on," said Principal Luna.

Eco-wellness teacher Thora Gray enrolled her own daughter at the school.

"Kids are wiggly. They like to move around and be outside," said Gray.

Even in the hands-on environment, students still make mistakes and tests are still expected, but at A.D.S. Gray says the students don't always realize that their activities are actually preparations for testing.

That de-emphasis on testing is what drew in the Brown family.

"I could really in many ways care less what the testing system says about him," said dad Damon Brown. "I know that may be important for others and that's fine because every kid is different. Every parent is different. But for me, I'm excited when my child is excited about learning."

Principal Luna admits the environment may not be suited for every child, but for these students it's helping them thrive.

Charter schools like the Austin Discovery School don't get as much state money for their programs compared to public schools, about $1,500 less per student. A.D.S. relies on donations and parent involvement.