Butler University has teamed up with the Indianapolis Public School System (IPS) to open the new Reggio Magnet School in 2011.
Butler will play a role in the Reggio Magnet School through the College of Education (COE). Education majors will train on-site at the school.
COE Dean Ena Shelley, along with IPS Superintendent Eugene White and Butler University President Bobby Fong, have developed a program that combines traditional laboratory features and the specialized curriculum aspect of a magnet program for the school.
“Not all students learn in the same way, so if we include features from here and features from there, it gives all students a better chance to be successful, no matter how they learn,” White said.
The new school will operate under the Reggio Emilia philosophy.
Shelley said the philosophy is grounded in exploration and discovery based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.
The curriculum for the new program will be characterized by the numerous opportunities for students to explore and use creative thinking, Shelley said.
The teachers involved will observe and question the students about a topic that might be of interest. Based on the students’ responses, they will introduce materials, questions and opportunities that provoke the students to explore the topic.
“The philosophy really allows the children to be more hands-on in the things that they learn, and those in the education field are finding that idea to be more and more important,” Shelley said.
Shelley has studied and introduced the philosophy to many Central Indiana schools over the past 13 years.
“During their freshman year, students will be in the classrooms. They’ll be able to see not only the IPS instructors, but also Butler instructors, modeling professional best practices,” Shelley said.
Having COE students working at the school will give them a better chance to see the Reggio Emilia philosophy at work.
“We want this program to really flourish,” Shelley said. “Hopefully, if our students are surrounded by this philosophy, they will be able to pass it on as they go out into the working world.”
All of the teachers at the new program will be employed by IPS and will be trained through Butler’s COE.
Butler alumnus Ronald Smith will serve as principal of the new school.
Smith is currently the principal of the Warren Early Childhood Center for the metropolitan School District of Warren Township in Indianapolis and will hold this position through the 2010-2011 school year.
Smith will hold a non-tenure track faculty position in the COE and will teach and participate in research projects at the elementary school, White said.
The new school will operate out of the current William A. Bell School No. 60 at 3330 N. Pennsylvania Ave.
Students living near the school and children of Butler employees will be given priority in terms of acceptance.
“It’s important to me for employees to keep their children in IPS schools,” Fong said. “We have to be part of this community.”
Fong also said the program was developed as an example for other members of the community and the university.
“We always tell our students to be citizens of the world, and if they have opportunities like this one, they will be able to be a part of that lesson,” Fong said. “This opportunity provides a way so that they can not just learn about it in the classrooms, but they can be a part of it.”
The new program will only be applied to students in kindergarten and 1st grade when the school opens in the fall of 2011.
Grades 2-5 will be introduced to the program in consecutive years.
“If we spread the program out one year at a time, it gives us a chance to be more efficient,” White said. “We can look at the program and decide what is working and what is not working and make changes accordingly.”
Another reason for the transition period is to promote and encourage growth of the program through word-of-mouth.
“We want people to start talking about this and wanting this to be available for their students,” White said. “If we open it all up right now, we may end up with 50 students for six grades, and that just wouldn’t be beneficial to the students.”
Funding for the program has been difficult.
“We’re in a world where it’s difficult to get funding for public education and in order to do new and innovative things like these, you really have to get everyone on-board,” White said.
In order to cover the funding necessary, White said the school corporation has applied for federal magnet school grants.
Butler’s only expense is to pay half of Smith’s salary.
Both White and Shelley said they hope the program will show innovation in education and set an example for schools around the nation.
“IPS has always been innovative and on the cutting-edge of new ideas in the classroom, and this certainly isn’t an exception,” White said.
“Butler should take pride in its part in this program,” Shelley said. “My hope is that other school systems around the state and around the country will look at this program and say ‘Wow, I want to do that with our corporation.’”