Education Special Report: From listeners to leaders

From the one room school house, to different classrooms within a building where students can use different tools to better their learning. (NTV News)

A new way of learning is beginning to grow, as a local school district is making its kids the leaders.

From the one room schoolhouse, to different classrooms within a building where students can use different tools to better their learning.

The Nebraska Department of Education says one of its missions is to develop new learning experiences for students and educators.

NTV took a look at the Grand Island School District, where the students are the hero in this story.

For Dani Ryan, a first grade teacher at Starr Elementary, she’s one of the teachers changing up her lesson plan, handing off her role to the students on being a leader.

"We're changing the way we approach teaching to our students. Our students start with a target that is the goal for their lesson. In the success criteria are the steps, but the things they need to do to be successful to hit that target.” Ryan said.

Ryan puts her students into groups, having them talk it out on how they will solve the problem.

"It's been really incredible to watch some of these first graders, getting them into groups and listening to their conversations rather than me telling them everything,” Ryan said.

This then leaves Ryan's transition a bit easier for her teaching style.

"Some of the conversations that they have together and the way that they are able to help each makes them seem really mature and grown up and it’s so fun to watch them through this experience,” Ryan said.

Ryan said her students are more engaged, teaching them how to work together.

"I will constantly hear them saying things like 'I heard you say,' so they are learning to listen to each other so they are really learning skills that they are going to use throughout their lives,” Ryan said.

Grand Island Public Schools says its goal is for their students to thrive.

"This is not an experiment for what we are doing. We are looking a research-based practice to really train and transform our organization overall,” said GIPS superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover.

GIPS said it spent much of last year developing a plan for not only will they focus on elementary students.... but focus on making their students stronger.

"Our strategic plan was really from the grassroots really talking to people within the community and having an understanding of their needs, their desires for our students,” Grover said.

The district believes learning should go hand in hand with each student's interests and passions focusing on all ages.

"And really to allow kids to explore those interests, also continues into middle school which ultimately leads us to our high school project right now which is the move to the Grand Island Senior High Preparatory Academies,” said GIPS chief academic officer Josh McDowell.

Katelyn Hill, senior at Grand Island Senior High, works alongside the board to share her ideas on how to better the way kids learn.

Hill said this process is for everyone, no matter what test scores you receive.

"A lot of the times teachers would be teaching stuff in class and students would be wondering how this going to focus towards my future and my life goals that I want to do. Now since were transitioning towards the student-based learning classrooms, students are able to choose what they want to learn,” Hill said.

GIPS said with research, it will take time to transition.

For teachers in the district, some were afraid, including Ms. Ryan.

"The biggest question was I don't know how I’m going to do this, what are we going to do. And we've had so much training and so much guidance along the way,” Ryan said.

GIPS said they see a brighter future for their students. they also see a change in the future for their schools and hope to see this happening more in Nebraska.

To view this story and all of Tarrah Gibbons' coverage click here for Facebook and click here for Twitter.

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