by Trenna Ahlstrom
Discovery Academy is an innovator in the field of educating troubled teens. Students learn how to manage their own education while working closely with certified teachers. Students are able to learn valuable tech skills, which helps them develop a healthy attitude toward technology. As students engage in weekly experiential learning activities, they come to associate school with a sense of discovery and confidence in their abilities to be successful. As a result, they love to learn again.
The Academic department at Discovery Academy is lead by Laurie Laird, M.Ed. Laurie has more than 15 years experience working in educational administration. In addition, she has 16 years of teaching experience in the public school system.
Discovery Academy has used a student-focused model of education for more than 20 years. In this model, the teacher serves as a guide who helps students progress through the material at their own pace. Students are only introduced to new topics after they have mastered the previous material. This model ensures student success.
“Because we require a demonstrated competency of 80%, that ensures students understand the content before moving on to the next lesson,” Laurie said.
This model of education has proven successful, with the majority of Academy graduates eventually going to college or career/vocational training.
As students move through coursework at their own pace, individual instruction is an important part of what we do at Discovery Academy. Students begin to feel a sense of ownership in their own education which helps them develop a sense of personal responsibility. Moreover, they improve their executive functioning skills, such as organization and goal setting.
However, there are opportunities for students to work in groups. Laurie described the importance of group work, “To prepare for college and their careers, students need to know how to communicate and collaborate within a group setting.”
Working with peers is an important part of the school day because it helps students develop socially. When they move on to other school or work environments, students will be able to practice the healthy group work skills that they learned at Discovery Academy.
Some of our most popular courses relate to technology. Technology-based courses are valuable for many reasons. Technology-based skills are in high demand. In addition, students who may be used to seeing technology only as toys learn to see technology as tools.
Here are some examples of student work from the Discovery Academy Digital Arts class:
In addition to classes where technology is the main focus, technology can play a major role in other classes. For example, our biology classes feature virtual labs. Students can have the experience of conducting an experiment, such as mixing acids and bases, in a safe, virtual environment.
“We are also incorporating more virtual labs for science. Virtual labs along with other project-based activities, provide hands-on learning and critical thinking skills. We want to help prepare them so they can return home and have the skills that they need,” Laurie said.
Recently, students were given a survey which asked them to describe their favorite part of the Discovery Academy program. Their answers included, “Having the ability to go at my own pace.” “That it is self-paced and individual based. It also requires the student to take on their own education through motivation which helps increase responsibility in the future.”
Many of the students who attend Discovery Academy have fallen out of love with school. They see school as a source of unwelcome challenges and pressures. As students spend more time at Discovery Academy, they come to see that this school is different. Allowing students to move at their own pace reduces a great deal of the pressure. Also, a weekly progress report lets students who struggle with long-term planning focus on short-term goals. In addition, experienced-based learning activities bring a sense of new discovery back to learning.