As the mother of an almost-four-year-old, education has been a topic of conversation in our home. In fact, before we relocated from Reno to Austin, we had an idea of the education environment that was waiting for us in the 512, and while for the most part it’s good, there are certain pockets that need improvement.  In June, Vanessa blogged about where to even start when it comes to education and, because I now know it’s better to start earlier than later, last week, that’s exactly what I did.

I had the chance to attend an open house for IDEA Public Schools last Tuesday. The event was part of a quarterly event series hosted at their Austin campus–IDEA Allan.

IDEA Public Schools
Photo Credit: IDEA Public Schools (Mitch Idol)

IDEA’s mission is to provide a high-quality education experience to students in the hopes that 100% of their students attend college.  So far, their goal has been successful with a six-year track record of sending 100% of their seniors to college.

The first part of the open house involved a campus tour. We visited a younger-aged class and middle school math class in addition to a class in a computer lab. Everyone was in uniform and they quietly moved from one class to the other, without the screaming and chaos I remember from my days in the Pennsylvania public school system.

Photo Credit: IDEA Public Schools (Mitch Idol)
Photo Credit: IDEA Public Schools (Mitch Idol)

IDEA uses an individualized model of teaching, they call BetterIDEA, for the elementary level. This means that students are learning at their grade level. When you walk into a classroom you’ll see three groups–one group of students are doing independent work, while two others are receiving instruction on their level. One way to think about this is that if your child is in second grade based on their age, but they are advanced in certain subject areas, with IDEA’s individualized approach you can be sure your students aren’t going to fall behind. It reminded me of Lucy’s Montessori school with the way the groups are planned out. I like to think of it as “circuit training” where the students spend time in each area before moving onto the next, just like you would during circuit training at the gym. Not that I go to one of those….

As students progress from the elementary level to the college preparatory level, they still receive that individualized attention. One thing that I liked particularly well about IDEA is that from the time students are in sixth grade, they have the chance to visit colleges and universities across the state and the nation to introduce students to college life. I didn’t have that opportunity until campus visits in high school. I believe that if i had, I most likely would have been more prepared and not dropped out after one semester at Pitt.

IDEA Allan opened in 2012 and serves grades K-3rd, 6th and 7th.

The students we observed seemed wise beyond their years. One of our class greeters, Mirella, said she loved IDEA because it was more focused on education than her normal school in east Austin. Also, and this is attributed to the uniforms, bullying is virtually non-existent at IDEA. There appears to be a genuine respect at IDEA–mutual respect between students, teachers, parents and administrators. It’s quite admirable to see teachers who really cared about their students and vice versa. Mirella spoke very passionately about how she couldn’t wait to go to college at TCU and she loves to draw any chance she gets.

The second part of the open house was a panel discussion about IDEA. On the panel was a parent and PTA president, a teacher who had spent 20+ years at AISD and a teacher who recently started her career at IDEA Allan. They each offered their own perspective on the school and teaching methods. All were very positive about their experiences at IDEA and were enthusiastic to share the school’s vision.

What I discovered during my visit to IDEA is that the school system in Austin is far from perfect. In fact, nobody could really give me a straight answer when I asked why other than low socio-economic status means crappier schools. Since this answer is unacceptable, charter schools like IDEA were created to provide an alternative to students who live in the “crescent of inequality,” {the geographical area that encompasses I-35; it’s the historically low-income area that ‘has always been that way’ according to the panel}. IDEA is free to attend and they really have done an amazing job with getting Austin kids who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to can excel. All students who are historically under-served deserve a quality education in Austin. It’s a great program but it brought up a bigger question to this Austin-education-novice: What’s being done to fix the problems in the under-served schools? Obviously, that’s a huge question for another post. But it sparked a fire in me that I can’t ignore. Expect to see some more education-themed posts from me in the future.

Sponsored By: IDEA Public Schools



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