The things we remember most in life are experiences.
So what better way for youngsters to learn than experiencing life?
That is the philosophy behind the new Dr. Sarah K. Jandrucko Academy For Early Learners in the Mansfield school district. The early literacy center opened when school resumed in January and is designed to promote learning among the youngest students (mostly 4-year-olds) in an engaging environment.
“It’s not just unique to Mansfield ISD. It’s unique to the state — and even the country,” said MISD Director of Early Literacy Kristi Cobb. “Everything in the school is strategically and purposefully placed to teach children how to master a different educational and social-emotional skill. The academy is centered around active, exploratory learning, and that is how students that age learn best.”
The facility has 16 unique learning experiences, or what might typically be called a classroom. However, these aren’t ordinary classrooms. Each is structured into a pod of learning, exploration, investigation, navigation, and especially imagination.
In each pod, children are immersed in learning about different topics, including oceans, greenhouses, jungles, animals, and space.
For example, when learning about oceans, students experience an interactive submarine as part of the experience. In an interactive field trip, students and teachers see different mammals and learn about that world.
“I love it. It’s amazing,” said Shedera Morrison, one of the instructors. “Good teachers know kids learn best hands-on. This is helping build a vocabulary to be better readers. Already my kids are using words like narwhal and savanna.”
A narwhal, also known as the “unicorn of the sea,” is a porpoise found in Arctic coastal waters with tusks that can grow up to almost 9 feet long. A savanna is a grassy plain in tropical and subtropical regions, with few trees.
“I even have one student see something and say, ‘That’s the Northern Lights!’” Morrison said. “It’s because of these walls around them. They are so authentic.”
The walls feature a plethora of life-like pictures.
“This is exactly what children these ages need. It is developmentally appropriate and academically engaging. It’s the best of both worlds,” Traca Farnsworth, also a teacher, said. “Half of these kids have never been to a zoo before. For the next two weeks I’m preparing a zoo for them.
“What better way to learn than to be engrossed in it? While they’re playing, they’re learning.”