New elementary school offers project-based, social focus

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WESTON, Wis. (WSAW) - "When you stop wanting to improve, you lose your passion."

The quote above is advice one local elementary school teacher uses every day to make learning unique for her students. On Sept. 5, the first one-room elementary school in the D.C. Everest School District will be open for just that.

On the outside, the new multi-age elementary school looks like any other building in Weston, Wis.

"We're a regular elementary school in the D.C. Everest District, and we're different in the fact that we're not going to have some of the time constraints," Teacher Pam Gresser said.

On the inside, there's a new perspective on teaching from both teachers, Gresser and Pam Merz.

"We're not teaching grade levels, we're teaching students," Merz said.

Both Gresser and Merz have a passion for education and for thinking outside the box.

"In Pam's words, 'I fly like the wind. I'm very free spirited," Merz said. "I can just let it go. Pam is more of the list person."

Gresser and Merz are the driving force behind the new option for families in the district: less traditional structure, but a focus on retaining information in an engaging way for the kids.

"We use the common core state standards as a guide, and then from there, the students get to choose what topics they want to do based on what standards they need to know," Gresser said.

"This type of environment really allows kids to connect at a social level that they may not have the opportunity to do in a traditional setting," Merz said.

The school is divided into four areas: a kindergarten-2nd grade area, 3-5 grade area, glassed corner named the "makers space" for creative projects and a community sitting area, where class starts and ends.

"Every day will start and end as a whole school because this is really community-focused, and we are a family," Gresser said.

There's another difference at the one-school elementary: social development.

"How can we get kids to cooperate and collaberate and get them ready for careers that have not even been thought of at this point," Merz said.

Both Gresser and Merz said the future of education invovles a personalized approach to learning for students and teachers alike.

"It's not about improving so much for yourself, but being better for the kids," Gresser said.

About 35 kids are enrolled to start in September, and there's a waiting list too. The idea came from the district, and the two teachers put together the lesson plans and school in four months.

Lunch will be bused in, and all standardized state tests will be the same as any other public school.