GEORGIA – The Georgia Elementary/Middle School (GEMS) won high praise from a Californian education specialist last week after Franklin West Supervisory Union (FWSU) welcomed the specialist, an official from AltSchool, for a supervisory union-wide tour.

Having already toured schools in Fletcher and Fairfax, FWSU superintendent Ned Kirsch led AltSchool’s Devin Vodicka through GEMS to highlight some of the Georgia school’s more progressive practices, starting with its information lab and concluding with a student-led disciplinary circle.

AltSchool is a tuition-based group of private schools in San Francisco and New York City. It also maintains a network of technology-oriented partner schools, through which it shares ideas for modern education practices.

Kirsch facilitated the tour with the hopes that Vodicka may find some ideas in FWSU that he could share with the rest of AltSchool’s network.

It was a tour that appeared to leave strong impressions on Vodicka.

“Overall there’s a lot to be excited about,” he said after meeting with GEMS technology specialists Dayle Payne and Eric Hadd, the tour’s first stop. “There’s a lot to celebrate.”

Georgia’s information lab was billed by Kirsch as the “heart of the school now,” where students gathered to produce everything from media projects – the tour began with a short news broadcast assembled by GEMS students – to 3D printing and robotics.

Hadd highlighted that the work in the lab extended beyond the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields that parents tended to associate with technology labs, as teachers were able to blend the technical work of the lab with the work in the humanities.

“You think it’d be focused all on STEM… but we do so many different things,” Hadd said. “We’re doing global development goals… that cross over into humanities but have a lot of technical aspects.”

The global development goals, more formally known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), are a series of interdependent targets set by the United Nations to encourage more sustainable development worldwide. The SDGs cast a wide net, with goals targeting everything from poverty and gender inequality to climate change and public health.

FWSU made the SDGs a unifying theme to its curriculum this year. Throughout the tour, Kirsch would point out places where the SDGs were pasted to hallway walls and above classroom doors.

Hadd and Payne shared with Vodicka a few of the ways students had gone about addressing some of those goals through projects facilitated by the information lab.

In one instance, students explored ways they could cut down on the amount of trash produced by instant coffee K-cups in GEMS. When they realized that there’d be no way they could convince people to stop using something as convenient as K-cups, they sought to repurpose waste from K-cups as fertilizer and material for art projects, Hadd explained.

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