How Charter Schools Provide a Flexible Learning Environment

For decades, traditional public schools have provided one path. Learn how a charter school’s flexible learning environment meets the same high standards in a new way.

At all public schools, whether they are traditional schools or charter schools, students must meet academic standards set by the state of Michigan. Grade by grade, each classroom across the state must achieve the same Common Core standards — but how they get there can be vastly different. Because charter schools can meet these standards through a flexible learning environment, charter schools are valuable options for families who are looking for just the right academic fit for their child.

Across the state, families looking for a flexible learning environment — whether that’s through a Montessori educational philosophy, an arts-based curriculum or even a culturally appropriate approach to K-12 education — can find public charter schools where their children thrive. Through a flexible learning environment, a charter school provides an excellent educational choice while meeting high academic standards, positioning students to succeed in college and career.

“Having choice really matters,” says Chanavia Patterson, Director of School Quality at National Heritage Academies, a charter school management company that operates 87 schools in nine states, including more than 50 within Michigan. “It’s important for parents to have a say in where and how their child is educated. Their local school may be a block away, but it might not be the right fit and fortunately they can make a different choice without having to move. Charter schools have additional resources and can provide flexibility in their approach to give parents that choice.”

Flexible learning environment provides an engaging and safe platform

At Detroit Enterprise Academy, a K-8 school near Detroit’s East Village neighborhood, educators blend academics with a moral framework to help students build social-emotional skills in an environment where safety is a top priority. Like all National Heritage Academies schools, Detroit Enterprise Academy’s approach is based on the four pillars of academic excellence, moral focus, parental partnership and student responsibility.

While these pillars provide a framework, the flexible learning environment found in each school means that these educational goals are met in ways that make sense to the individual school. At Detroit Enterprise Academy, for example, academic excellence means promoting and pushing students to meet goals that are flexible enough to support novice and advanced learners alike, says Emily Gagnon, Principal at Detroit Enterprise Academy.

“We have a strong intervention program that is in place all day long, not just after school. We can offer this through a strong team of parapros and co-teachers, which we are fortunate to have,” Gagnon says. “We also differentiate our curriculum so our advanced learners are getting what they need, too.”

When students are ready to advance beyond grade level, for instance, Detroit Enterprise Academy has an advanced learning program in place to provide accelerated content. Middle school students can even achieve high school credit through advanced courses.

“This is a big differentiator between a charter school and a traditional public school,” says Patterson. “Schools are typically just given a curriculum but we have the autonomy to make the curriculum more rigorous or scaffold it down, making adjustments as we see fit. This flexibility allows us to meet the needs of the highest learners and also those who need additional support.”

Supported educators better support students

Charter schools that partner with National Heritage Academies like Detroit Enterprise Academy have access to a service center, which is a curriculum-based version of the central office of a traditional public school. This service center provides specialist educational support for teachers and administrators so they can focus on what really works in the classroom. “Our specialists can even go into the classroom to model a teaching method,” says Gagnon. “This level of support is a major benefit to being a charter school.”

Because educators at Detroit Enterprise Academy recognize the importance of social-emotional learning, they weave aspects of the moral focus pillar into everyday teaching, rather than reserving for isolated incidents. “Each month, we focus on one of nine virtues. We talk about what these virtues look like and sound like and we infuse them into our daily practices,” Gagnon says. The values of gratitude, wisdom, respect, self-control, perseverance, courage, encouragement, compassion and integrity provide a valuable framework and relevance to the curriculum.

“We know that a student can be the smartest kid, but are they the nicest? Do they know how to treat others? People skills go a long way in the real world,” says Patterson.

In addition to providing multiple opportunities for parental partnerships, leaders at Detroit Enterprise Academy officially solicit parental feedback twice yearly to learn what’s working and what could be improved.

When it comes to making the best choice for your own child, both experts recommend touring schools of interest and learning about their academic approach as well as their school culture.

“You definitely want to choose a school where your child will be loved and supported,” Gagnon says. “We love our kids here and that’s our culture. Something special happens here.”

Learn more about the benefits of a flexible learning environment and how National Heritage Academies can provide a good fit for your child at nhaschools.com. Visit GVSU Charter Schools office at gvsu.edu/cso.

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