ARIZONA NEWS

Elementary school in Tempe tears down classroom walls, reimagines how learning happens

Mar 29, 2022, 4:45 AM

PHOENIX — Learning at Kyrene de las Manitas Elementary School in Tempe looks, sounds and feels a lot different than a typical classroom.

The walls for six classrooms have been torn down and turned into a large, open space that holds dozens of students. It’s part of the school’s pilot program called SPARK.

“It is so open, and we really do consider it an entire learning studio. That’s why we got away from the term classroom,” Sarah Collins, the school’s principal, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Students are split up into learning spaces throughout the day to cover various subjects, including math, science and English. The spaces are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and colorful furniture with wheels that are designed for flexibility and collaboration.

Each learning studio has a team of teachers and assistants. It includes certified teachers, instructional assistants and college students studying to become teachers. The team is led by a teacher executive designer, known as the TED.

“We’re talking about six, seven, maybe eight adults on a daily basis who are supporting all of the students in the learning studio, which is about 100 to 120 students,” Collins said.

The teachers play a big role in designing the curriculum and coming up with a personalized learning approach for each student that focuses on where they are academically. That means mixing with students from other grades throughout the day.

“So when it’s a math block, everybody is at math and everybody is teaching math. But you’re getting content at your level,” Collins explained.

Currently, the school has two learning studios in spaces that used to make up 12 classrooms, covering grades third through sixth. Kinder through second grade are in traditional classrooms.

There are plans to build more learning studios and expand to other grades over the next two school years as the school transitions to its new name: Kyrene de las Manitas Innovation Academy.

Liam Mcilvain, 11, is one of the students currently enrolled in the SPARK program. The sixth grader admitted “it was definitely a little overwhelming” at first but now prefers it over a traditional classroom.

He likes that the program is project-based. Mcilvain shared that he has been able to work on various projects, including one covering space and the solar system and another covering sustainability.

Mcilvain said he also likes that he gets to be around a lot more students, and he explained why having more than one teacher is a plus.

“When you have one teacher in your classroom, if you don’t connect with that teacher or you have different personalities, that could ruin your whole school year,” he said.

“You might not be focused. You might not want to learn. But having multiple teachers gives you the opportunity to at least connect to one.”

Three more learning studios will be offered next school year, allowing the SPARK program to expand to the whole campus and cover kindergarten through seventh grade. Eighth grade will be added the following school year.

Video by KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jeremy Schnell.

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Elementary school in Tempe tears down classroom walls, reimagines how learning happens