What if, when you were a kid, there was a school where you were both encouraged and given permission to pursue your individual interests? What if enthusiastic and passionate teachers helped you develop the tools you needed to explore and learn about how that interest works in the real world by taking you to learn from those already in the field and letting you actually do the work yourself?
Christine Laurenzi, founder and director of a new school called Indi-ED in downtown St. Pete, wants that opportunity for today’s kids. She believes that an integral part of education is making real-world connections in tandem with standard education. So, after ten years of teaching in the Pinellas County public school system, last year she decided to open Indi-ED for students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, where kids can learn by doing.
“There is no reason why we need to just force kids to sit inside a classroom at a desk and try to manipulate situations to be semi-real when there are people and opportunities that you can learn from in the real world and in general,” said Laurenzi.
At Indi-ED, short for Individualized Education, Laurenzi and her staff approach teaching in a tailored way to each student. They do this by learning about the students at enrollment time and during summer, aligning them into small cohorts of students with similar abilities, then build the lesson plans around what the kids want to explore. “Knowing the kids, who they are, what they’re interested in, we design the curriculum over the summer with the state standards and the common core, but with an actual real-life connection to it,” Laurenzi said.
At Indi-ED, the incoming students not only chose the blue, green and purple paint on the walls, but also helped to paint them. As a founding group of 13 kids ranging from third to 11th grade, they democratically decided which rooms should be the classrooms, the library, and the rooms for individualized work. They are even responsible for cleaning up the lounge after lunch, all a part of taking ownership of their school experience.
While Laurenzi had many positive experiences in the public school system, ultimately she felt that the imposed rigid structure was detrimental to her ability to really educate her students as well as she knew was possible. “The idea of connecting with kids is always in the forefront… differentiating instruction and getting to actually know them as a human not only seems like common sense—but it’s a philosophy that’s also taught [in education], but it’s not necessarily allowed to be applied,” said Laurenzi.
She said whether a child is struggling in school or is in a gifted program, with the real-world approach, all children thrive. “When you watch them, connect with them and then figure out how to gear it towards them, you see the results, and no matter what type of kid it is, it doesn’t matter. They can all do more than what’s presented in the traditional classroom.”
Laurenzi said ultimately her goal for her students “is for them to do what makes them happy in life and to understand their potential. They are completely capable of anything they put their mind to. For parents, it’s for them to be able to understand their kids aren’t broken. They’re completely capable, no matter what a test tells them.”
To learn more about Indi- ED, go to www.Indi-ED.com or call 727-209-7106.