April 7, 2017

Butler Lab School 60  

The first
thing you notice in every single classroom as you walk through IPS/Butler University Laboratory School 60 is children sitting on the floor, often
in groups. It’s not the exception to the rule, it’s the norm. There aren’t any
desks for students to sit at even if they wanted to, which is by design at this
IPS Choice school.


“We’re not a desk and straight rows sort of school,” said Principal Ron
Smith. “We use tables instead of desks and many children prefer to sit on the
floor. We prefer to have children in groups because we feel the learning can be
better when they’re in a group and contributing ideas to one another.”Ron Smith, Butler Lab Principal


Butler Lab
is based on the Reggio Approach, a philosophy inspired by teachings from the
town of Reggio Emilio, Italy, which focuses on the educational importance of
community and free inquiry as its primary values. A project-based school,
Butler Lab builds its curriculum with students’ interests in mind — integrating
both innovative and core curriculum.


Smith helped
to open the school in 2011.


“One of the hallmarks of a Reggio-inspired school is we try to be keen
observers of children in school,” he said. “We try to pay attention to the
things they’re telling us they’re interested in learning about, and we engage
in long-term projects to give them an opportunity to explore those topics.”


The innovative curriculum and options provided at Butler Lab aren’t lost
on even the youngest of its students.


 “I really like that the children
get time to explore and stuff. I think it’s really awesome that there aren’t
any desks here. I like to do projects. I really like pretty much everything
about this school,” said first-grader Lucy A., who offered an explanation of the
Peace Pole project that she and her classmates are working on.


According to Lucy, each of the students designed ceramic tiles to
decorate a wooden pole that has a small compartment. Inside the compartment,
students will place food, gloves, hats and other things people might need. The
pole will be placed outside in an area that’s easily accessible to those living
in or passing through the neighborhood. The project is an example of how Butler
Lab students are learning to give back.


In Becky Pokrandt’s class, third-grade student Nathan W. and his
classmates are building simple machines out of erector sets. It’s one of many
hands-on projects they do in class.


“I’m so glad I’m in this school and not my old school, because in that
school I got bad grades,” said Christopher H.


Barrett K., a third-grader, said the simple machine project is serving
as a source of inspiration. “This invention is inspiring me to want to build
amusement parks when I grow up.”


Comments like these make Pokrandt happy.


“The inspirations they get from the classroom, we try to connect back to
the real world. So, that’s great to hear. It warms my heart,” said Pokrandt.


Reggio is a relatively new educational approach in America, when parents visit
the school for the first time they may not know exactly what they’re walking
into. But they quickly see and feel its influences.


“What I really liked about it when I toured for the first time was the
feel of the classrooms,” said Amanda Elpers, who has two children at Butler Lab
— Vivian, first grade, and Reese, second grade.


The teachers and staff consider the school’s environment as an
additional teacher. That’s why classrooms are carefully decorated, often
bringing nature inside. Several classrooms have tree branches artfully hanging
from the ceilings. Others have class pets.


“I have animals in my classroom, and not only is that just a fun way to
have class pets but the other day we needed grass for (our Guinea pig’s) cage, so
I measured his cage and they figured out the area and perimeter so we could get
grass for the cage,” said Pokrandt. “Even something as simple as having a class
pet does have a purpose.”


Students are also taking those lessons learned in school and applying
them to real-life situations.

“In kindergarten, one of the mottos was, ‘Try your personal best,’” said
Eplers. “And I remember in swim lessons, my daughter used that when she told
her coach she was trying her personal best. She’s getting that from school and
I love it!”


For Principal Smith, the proof of success in the Reggio Approach is in
the learning story documented through photographs, student work samples and
conversations between the children.


“I see a higher level of engagement. I see children excited about being
at school. I see families that are engaged, enjoying the experience, promoting
the school with other families they know,” said Smith. “It’s a win-win, and
that’s what Reggio is all about.”


Butler Lab has nearly 500 students in Grades PreK—7. Eighth grade will be added
for the 2018-2019 school year.