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A new way of learning at Gertie Belle Rogers

Shortly after taking lunch and a "brain break" on Friday, 64 students at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School sat down for a meeting. It was their second "community meeting" of the day, and a daily occurrence. But these 64 students aren't called...

Preston O'Connor, Luke Jerke and Lincoln Stange work on various projects Friday afternoon in the personalized learning community at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School in Mitchell. (Sara Bertsch / Republic)
Preston O'Connor, Luke Jerke and Lincoln Stange work on various projects Friday afternoon in the personalized learning community at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School in Mitchell. (Sara Bertsch / Republic)

Shortly after taking lunch and a "brain break" on Friday, 64 students at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School sat down for a meeting.

It was their second "community meeting" of the day, and a daily occurrence. But these 64 students aren't called students, instead they're learners. And teachers are called facilitators.

And it wasn't a classroom they sat in, but their own Personalized Learning Community - most commonly known at Gertie Belle as the PLC.

In the PLC, community meetings and brain breaks rule.

"PLC is mainly a place you can learn at your own pace," said Luke Jerke, a fifth-grade level PLC learner. "The teachers don't tell us things. They're not teachers. We call them facilitators and they don't tell us what to do, they give us tasks."

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The PLC is an alternative learning space at Gertie Belle. Going into its second year, the space was introduced to parents two years ago, and any interested could send their child to the PLC rather than a normal grade-level classroom.

First through fifth-graders are welcomed into the classroom, all learning in the same place at the same time, but they aren't identified by their grade.

"We do ELA (English Language Arts), math, spelling, social studies and science. We do all of the core content like in any other elementary classroom, just the way is presented may be different than some," said facilitator Meghan Moody.

Moody, along with Kacee Kopfmann and Sarah Fosness, serve as the three facilitators watching the learners, and each day is a bit different than the next.

The three facilitators describe the PLC as a community of learners, helping bridge the gap between elementary and middle school - similar to how high schoolers are prepared for college courses.

"We try to look at our learners as learners and not a grade level students so we can meet their needs," Moody said. "That may mean they are working within the strand of standard where it's appropriate for them - whether that's above, below or on."

The facilitators watch as students progress, making "on-the-spot modifications" if needed to best meet the needs of students. But all the while they're sure not to push the learners too quickly, allowing them to have the "depth of knowledge" necessary.

A real-world vibe

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In the PLC, manipulating real-life scenarios and authentic situations is common in homework.

The facilitators do their best to make it as relevant to their learners as possible, tying it to their everyday lives. One way this is done is through passion projects.

Each learner has a passion, allowing them to study and research a specific topic of their choosing. With their passion they can do whatever they'd like, whether that is a presentation or making a model to display.

The students also have Learning Priority Time, called LPT.

"If they work hard all day long and have done work on their core subjects, then they can work on different things during their learner priority time, or even some of them have been working on it at home," Kopfmann said.

Within the PLC, some students are working on creating a babysitting service for Mitchell, while another female learner, who has a passion for reading, spent Fridays going to the Mitchell Public Library, assisting librarians with whatever they needed.

"It's really cool to see the kids take control of their learning and try different things," Kopfmann said.

Mistakes are welcomed in the PLC

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There's no erasing in the PLC.

Learners are encouraged to not erase their work as it's evidence of their learning.

"Some people say mistakes are super bad things and you never want to make a mistake. We think mistakes are really good for you because they help your brain grow and not making that mistake again," Jerke said.

And Lincoln Stange agrees.

Stange, who would be a third-grader, said other differences between the PLC and a regular classroom include a comfortable environment to learn in as well as how they take breaks.

"For our recess, we don't go with the normal kids," Stange said. "We take brain breaks when everyone needs one."

And both Stange and Jerke agree it's a more freeing environment - where futons, tables and other furniture not typically found in classroom fill the large space. It allows them to relax while learning.

But the extra relaxation doesn't mean there isn't learning in the classrooms and their facilitators make sure of that.

"Learning is never done," Moody said. "We want kids to think about a way to continue to learn and be better every day."

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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