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New project-based charter school to open in Rochester this fall

New project-based charter school to open in Rochester this fall

A new project-based charter school hopes to enroll up to 150 students by the time it opens its doors in southeast Rochester this fall.

Technical Academies of Minnesota announced plans this week for a startup location inside the former Big Lots space at 1607 U.S. 14. The school, open to students in grades 7-12, will be the program's third in Minnesota.

Technical Academies received a grant in 2013 from the federal government to set up four schools in the state. It opened its first school in Wilmar last year; added a second in Owatonna this year; and plans to open a fourth in Jackson by 2017.

 
 

The program's curriculum is hands-on and individualized, giving students the opportunity to focus on specific interests. Unlike a traditional class structure, students spend the majority of their time working on specific projects tailored to their interests and learning needs.

"It's designed for students that do better at their own pace — self-motivators who have strong passions in certain areas and want more time to pursue those passions," said Carl Anderson, a board member and teacher for Technical Academies who has the led the effort for a new location in Rochester.

According to Anderson, licensed teachers — referred to as advisors — work with students to identify their interests and passions, and then guide them toward a project that advances their education.

Each advisor is responsible for about 15-18 students. And unlike most schools (or any other organizations for that matter), there are no administrators in the building. Anderson said the teacher-led approach serves two purposes: saving money and holding staff more accountable.

Students spend, on average, 25-60 hours on each project. However, as students get older they are expected into invest additional time, potentially up to 200 hours, into more complex projects that prepare them for college and their careers.

 
 

A project can really be anything that motivates a student to engage in critical thinking. For instance, Anderson said one group at another school is working on a project involving projectiles. First, they start by researching past weapons of warfare (history); next, they build prototypes at different scales (technology); lastly, they test to see how far the objects go (science and math). 

"It's a different model of learning," he said. The goal of the program is for each student to leave the school "having expert knowledge in at least one field."

While students work on their projects most of the day, there is also time set aside for math and reading. And like any school in the state, students are still responsible for taking the same standardized tests administered to their peers in traditional learning environments.

Technical Academies are public and tuition-free. Interested parents can start the enrollment process here. An open house is scheduled for 1-4 p.m. on March 19.


About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.


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