“Destination Excellence,” the learning program used at the Imboden Area Charter School, was developed by the Director Judy Warren and has been recognized by the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta, Georgia as a “National Best Practices Program.” Warren has won several awards because of the program’s documented success at two school districts in the state of Kansas, including WalMart Teacher of the Year and the Crystal Apple Award, a regional award given by business leaders and parents in Kansas. She has also been a guest speaker at national conferences for the Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta and the University of Southern Georgia in Savannah.
Documented success of the program includes 5th and 6th graders in Goodland, KS showing increases from two to six grade levels in a single year. During the program’s implementation for a five-year period at Garden City High School, Garden City, KS with 60 at-risk freshmen per year being exposed two periods per day for one school year, 76% of students involved in the program went on to graduate from high school. Most recently, success with the program at the Imboden Area Charter School, serving grades kindergarten through eighth grades, includes test scores higher than any school in the state of Arkansas, and the school being rated as a “School of Excellence.”
This learning program is individualized for language arts and math which means that each student is working on personalized objectives to a mastery level – he/she understands completely before moving on to something new.
In many existing classrooms, the teacher starts on page one, and if most of the students comprehend the objective, they move on to page two and so on. There are two problems with that method. First, the students who may learn more slowly are lost on page one, and therefore, lost throughout the year. Second, the student who learns more quickly has grasped the concept immediately and becomes bored with the repetition that is necessary to teach to the average student. Teachers attempt to assist each student who has fallen behind or to challenge the gifted student, but with the textbook system, it is very difficult.
Destination Excellence is organized in such a way that allows students with difficulties the time necessary to master the objectives while allowing gifted students to go on to more challenging objectives.
The student chooses, within an organized framework, what activities he/she wishes to do each day. Student progress is tracked in individual folders allowing students to see growth and monitor their grade, thereby accepting responsibility for their own achievement.
Math instruction is divided into three main areas – 1) Facts and Processes in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with whole numbers, decimals, and fractions, 2) Concepts, where ideas are developed and skills are reinforced in number and operations, algebra, measurement, geometry, and data analysis and probability, and 3) Daily Review where repetition of concepts and processes is emphasized. Each student is pre-tested and placed in an appropriate level for his/her present skills. This level may be higher or lower than the student’s current grade level.
In language arts (reading, grammar, spelling, and writing) individualized objectives are combined with whole group instruction to meet each student’s unique learning needs.
Social studies and science are taught using a hands-on guided discovery approach where students problem-solve, research, create projects, and make connections based on their own experiences and learning styles.
The most important factor in the success of Destination Excellence is the philosophy, which is taken in part from William Glasser, whose studies indicate that all human beings are born with five basic needs: survival, belonging, power, freedom, and fun, and that human beings attempt to live their lives in such a way that will best satisfy one or more of these needs. Everyone knows that all students are unique; they learn differently and at different rates, and each student has his/her areas of strength and weaknesses. The learning program respects the individuality of each student while allowing the students to meet their five basic needs. This combination of philosophy and learning fosters an appreciation for fellow students and their achievements, as well as pride in a student’s own growth.
In a traditional system, all students are expected to learn the same things at the same rate. If we are already aware that all people are unique, it is easy to see the problems with this system. This traditional learning atmosphere fosters unhealthy and unfair competition among students and causes many of the social problems that exist in the school setting, such as bullying, name-calling, and even violence and gangs.
The classrooms at IACS are quality classrooms where students feel safe and empowered to learn, regardless of their levels. Once student needs are met, learning occurs rapidly, and every decision regarding curriculum, lesson design, instructional method, or supervision is formulated with these ideas in mind.