Understanding Learning Models for School Choice

understanding learning models school choice

Education is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Different children have different learning abilities, different skill sets, and different needs. Fortunately, San Antonio is now home to more than 150 schools of choice. While that is good news, it does present a challenge to families like yours who are trying to determine the right ones for your children. To best appreciate the options, it is important to understand each school’s learning model. STEM, dual language, single-sex, and classical education are just a few of the many options that are available to families seeking alternative educational options. Here is a break down of the top eight learning models for schools of choice to help you make the most informed decision and find the right fit for your child.

STEM Schools

An acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, STEM schools teach pre-K through high school students advanced concepts through fun, exciting, project-based learning. The challenging curriculum gives students the skill sets they need and then teaches them how to apply them through engaging, age-appropriate projects like robotics, video-game coding, and science fairs. Through these hands-on engineering opportunities and abstract computer science programs, students are set up for success not only in college but also in life. 

The high-paying jobs of the future are likely to be in STEM fields, but there are currently not enough graduates to fill them, especially in San Antonio. But even if a child doesn’t aspire to be the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, there is still much to be gained from the STEM curriculum. Most notably, creative problem-solving and teamwork. These skills are essential in both the STEM program and any workplace environment. STEM schools to consider include the School of Science and Technology (SST), Harmony Public Schools, and CAST Schools.

STEM enrichment activities San Antonio after school weekends

Classical Education Models

A formal education without the formal price tag, classical education learning models are akin to the liberal arts education commonly found in schools from past centuries or overseas. Structure, discipline, and high expectations are hallmarks of this type of education, and a dress code or uniform is often the standard. Students study Latin, learn to write in cursive, and read entire books versus just summaries or essays. By the time they enter high school, students have well-worn books filled with annotations and highlighted passages. They interact with one another in a Socratic seminar-type setting and are skilled in citing textual evidence to support theories and discussions. By the time they graduate, students are poised, independent, and creative-thinking individuals.

There is a real philosophy behind this style of education, but families must buy into it and support it at home as well. San Antonio’s classical education schools of choice include Great Hearts Texas, Valor Education, and Founders Classical Academy of Schertz.

Great Hearts Monte Vista book fair at Barnes & Noble | San Antonio Charter Moms

Child-Centered Learning

The term “child-centered learning” is often considered synonymous with Montessori schools. And while Montessori is certainly a popular choice for this style of learning, it is by no means the only choice. At its core, child-centered learning is an environment where children are self-paced, moving through the material at their own speed. As a result, it is not uncommon to find mixed-age classrooms in these types of models. These schools typically incorporate many visual and tactile learning elements including math manipulatives like blocks or beads on wires. Depending on the school, you may find a focus on art, or in some cases, a holistic approach that encourages physical activity and mental wellness components.

Often these schools focus on integrating bigger concepts like compassion, sustainability, and awareness of social issues. They teach them how to be good global citizens. Child-centered learning models can be found within SAISD, while other options include The Gathering Place, Promesa Academy, and Anne Frank Inspire Academy.

[Hall Monitor] The McNeels Choose a School, Part 3: Why We Love Montessori So Much | San Antonio Charter Moms

Dual Language Models

Success in today’s world often means being fluent in other languages. Teaching a second language while children’s minds are young and flexible is the premise behind dual language learning models.

Families and educators report seeing benefits when students learn a second language at an early age. It can improve memory, concentration, critical thinking, and listening skills while enhancing creativity and mental flexibility.

Although some use the terms interchangeably, dual language learning models are different from immersion models. In a Spanish/English dual language classroom, materials are taught in both languages. In a Spanish immersion classroom, the material is taught entirely in Spanish.

While Spanish is the most common dual language program in San Antonio, there are a few other options including Eleanor Kolitz Hebrew Language Academy (EKHLA) where students can be part of a Hebrew/English classroom. Other dual language options include CAST Med High School, Brooks Lone Star Academy, and many options at traditional public school districts, including SAISD.

Spanish Grove Academy dual language spanish english classroom

College and Career Readiness Models

Earning college credits while still in high school is a big plus for many students, especially those who may face barriers to enrolling in college. Through these programs, students graduate from high school with approximately two years’ worth of community college credits. They can either take an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year college and graduate early with less expense. Early college programs can save students a significant amount of time and money on their college journeys; that’s especially beneficial for first-generation college students. They can also help students as they apply for college because it shows that the student can do the college-level work.

Similar to the early college models, a broader set of schools offer dual credit classes. These classes earn the student college credits and give them a head start, but they do not add up to an entire associate’s degree. San Antonio boasts several early college and dual credit schools including Frank L. Madla Early College High School at New Frontiers Public Schools and Travis Early College High School at SAISD. At BASIS Charter Schools and IDEA Public Schools, students have the opportunity to load up on AP classes that lead to college credit. Schools that focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE) like Jubilee Academies where students can explore programs ranging from culinary to law enforcement, and Harmony Public Schools, that offer premed and criminal justice tracks, also help students jump start their professional lives.

Medicine pathway at Harmony Science Academy San Antonio

Culturally Responsive Schools

San Antonio is one of the most rapidly growing cities in America, and one of the most economically segregated. It is a community where at least 64 percent of the population identifies as Latino, and six percent as Black or African American, yet data indicates that many schools are still overwhelmingly failing students of color. Culturally Responsive schools work to change that by creating learning environments made up primarily of students and teachers of color. Students not only learn about their heritage but they are also made to feel proud of it rather than singled out for it. Schools like Essence Prep and SA Prep offer a culture designed to allow students of color to see themselves reflected in their school leadership. Like historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), these schools foster a sense of family and belonging while reminding students of color that they can use their experiences to become leaders, hold positions of power, and affect social change. These schools allow students to learn without the additional challenges of feeling like the minority or being singled out to speak for their race or culture. They aren’t the unicorn in the classroom.

essence prep students teacher

Single Sex Education

Studies have repeatedly shown that boys and girls learn differently. A single-sex educational environment allows teachers to cater to their respective learning styles, thereby boosting the self-esteem of both sexes. Historically, boys have proven to be more vocal in the classroom, often causing the girls to feel less confident about speaking up or assuming leadership roles. Girls, however, often have the advantage when it comes to behavior as they are inclined to sit still and listen longer than boys who prefer more action-based learning and may cause more interruptions in the classroom. In middle and high school, there is the additional problem of sexual dynamics which can be a big distraction to the learning process. Some students simply learn better with peers of the same gender; single-sex schools build their entire culture around that idea.

SAISD offers several options including both the Young Women’s and the Young Men’s Leadership Academies. Likewise, Edgewood ISD also offers choices for single-sex learning through leadership schools for both sexes.

Hemisfair School Discovery Day 2022_10_22 -90 SAISD YWLA students

Functional Needs Schools

As the name suggests, functional needs schools serve children who learn differently due to things like dyslexia, autism, hearing impairment, and other challenges. Designed to meet these children where they are, these schools incorporate a curriculum specifically designed to accommodate the needs of disabled children and help them to feel confident and successful in the classroom. Led by teams of experts who specialize in these and other conditions, students are supported, nurtured, and celebrated for what they can do, not what they cannot.

Students are given highly personalized, individual attention in these environments. Most have specialists on staff to assist with specific learning issues and to help educators navigate each child’s specific challenges. San Antonio is home to several functional needs schools including the Foundation School of Autism and the proposed charter school Celebrate Dyslexia Schools.

child reading book for learning model

Learning Models Help Focus Your School Search

As a parent or caregiver who is researching schools for your children, the range of options can be overwhelming. Remember that you know your children better than anyone else. As you develop an understanding of different learning models, you can narrow the field to the ones where your child will likely be their happiest and most successful. Visiting School Discovery Day events is a great way for parents to meet with representatives from multiple schools in one day, ask questions, and get a feel for the school’s climate and culture. The San Antonio Charter Moms team wants to make it as easy as possible to find the right school for your child as easy as possible. We have a wealth of resources, including our Facebook discussion group, interviews with schools, and weekly newsletter, to help you make the best choice.

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