GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Italian music played in the background as kindergarten and first-grade students welcomed parents and guests to Pizza by the Creek — a student-managed restaurant at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.
Several donned waiter outfits, preparing to serve pizza to parents and guests. Others carried boxes with materials to clean tables. One student served as a hostess, holding napkins neatly folded with plastic silverware. A few other students managed the cash register, giving actual change back to customers as they left.
Instead of assigning students specific tasks in the restaurant, their teachers hosted a job fair. Students applied for their positions with the restaurant, part of a six-week project-based learning unit that incorporates principles of personalized learning.
The definition of personalized learning is hotly contested and constantly changing. It generally refers to the idea that education should be tailored to every student’s needs, interests and strengths.
Students can participate in fun activities such as Pizza by the Creek, while at the same time, teachers can ensure those activities help them reach specific learning goals, like the Florida State Standards.
One aspect of personalization is competency-based learning, which allows students to advance to a higher level of learning regardless of the time they spend on a subject once they show mastery. Educators at P.K. Yonge said Pizza by the Creek is just one example of how they’re honing techniques that can help raise student achievement and better prepare students for the real world.
The school’s mission requires educators to experiment with cutting-edge techniques, while also making sure they serve their students well.
“We see a much bigger picture of what is personalized learning and how you can design an environment to support that,” said Lynda Hayes, director of P.K. Yonge. “We are working in a high-stakes environment, demanding a lot of change and at the same time trying to mitigate any risk, and it is quite a juggling act.”
The K-12 school is high achieving, having received an ‘A’ in 2016.
The Florida Department of Education reported 68 percent of students at least passed or received a higher mark on the English Language Arts and math exams. The same nearly held true for the school’s science scores, with 65 percent of students achieving such results.
Although P.K. Yonge is not a charter school, it admits students by a lottery. As a lab school, it’s required to enroll a student population that roughly reflects the statewide student population.
According to the school, 50 percent of its students are below Florida’s median income; 52 percent are children of color and 12 percent include students with disabilities. Students commute from more than 30 surrounding small and rural North Florida cities and towns. Continue Reading →