The Butler University Laboratory School is now entering its second semester of educating both students and student teachers.
The school, a collaboration between Butler and Indianapolis Public Schools, is located at 3330 N. Pennsylvania Ave. and serves nearly 100 children in preschool through first grade classes.
Ron Smith, a Butler graduate and the school’s principal, said he is very pleased with where the school is at, but would like it to see it continue to grow and improve.
“I don’t think this is a school that will ever stand still,” he said. “I think it’s a school that will always be looking forward to the future to think about how we can do our work better, how we can make our learning community stronger than it already is.”
Based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, the school is a unique and tailored learning experience.
Reggio Emilia is an educational style that believes “children have 100 ways of knowing, learning and expressing their understanding and interpretations of the world,” said COE Dean Ena Shelley, an expert on Reggio Emilia. “All children are seen as capable, competent, powerful learners with ideas that should be honored and examined.”
The lab school isn’t a typical elementary school. The low lighting, the open space, the tables of varying heights—everything comes together to create a comfortable, relaxing, natural atmosphere. Its costs are equal to those of a typical elementary school.
The physical environment of Reggio-inspired schools and traditional schools differ significantly, Shelley said.
“When one visits the lab school, one sees classrooms that are aesthetically beautiful, and every learning material is intentionally planned to engage children in deep investigations,” she said.
The Reggio-inspired environment is designed to help students relax and focus, steering away from the harsh fluorescent lighting of some typical elementary schools.
Cathy Hargrove, a professor of education, said getting students to think beyond a white sheet of paper allows teachers to use a variety of materials to demonstrate skills and concepts.
“It gives children a variety of ways to be able to sit and interact with one another,” she said. “The environments are created for the children, not the adult. We want them to feel that sense of success.”
Young children aren’t the only students learning at the lab school.
The school also is designed to allow Butler undergraduate students to gain hands-on experience in education, and it has a classroom dedicated to a Butler course that meets all day twice a week.
The lab school is fortunate that undergraduates get to see Butler graduates working with students immersed in the Reggio philosophy, Hargrove said.
In fact, every teacher is a Butler graduate.
“There’s real application backing all of the things they’re studying and learning about in class. It makes the learning visible for them,” she said.
“We are the Butler University Laboratory School, so there’s a very tight fit with the College of Education and this school, and a memo of understanding between the Indianapolis School Board and between the Board of Trustees at Butler that outlines how this school will be staffed and what this school will be,” Smith said.