School Business Affairs May 2019 SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS | MAY 2019 33 Step into PreK through Explorative Learning By Brandon Patton First-of-its-kind school sets the bar high for early education. facilities I nspiration—it can be found throughout the Dr. Sarah K. Jandrucko Academy for Early Learners: Four-year-olds climb into a model rocket ship and watch real-life rocket launches. They and then cruise into the savanna on a wild safari. The school’s environment was created to engage and encourage children to touch, play, and explore. “It’s structured around early childhood research and what it indicates is best for stu- dents and how they learn,” explains Kristi Cobb, director of early literacy for Mans- field Independent School District, part of the Dallas–Fort Worth metro area. “Young students will interact with others and learn through play, and they’ll also learn by having these unique experiences that are everywhere.” The district’s goal for the prekindergarten program is to improve the development of early literacy and numeracy and teach early learners to read on level or higher by the beginning of third grade. “Many pre-kindergarten centers focus on active, hands-on learning, but teachers are working overtime to create environments conducive to that type of learning,” Cobb says. “At the Academy for Early Learners, the environment and architecture of the building were designed specifically to facili- tate active, explorative learning.” Exploring and Learning The 54,000-square-foot building resembles a hands-on children’s museum with dedi- cated themes that are carried out through decor and interactive exhibits. The learn- ing environments are grouped into four main thematic pods and branch off into 16 distinct classroom environments. Stu- dents spend time exploring and learning about all aspects of life—taking pets to the vet, building igloos in the Arctic, or trac- ing food’s journey to the shelves of a gro- cery store. “It’s not like a traditional literacy cen- ter and not like a traditional school,” says Jeff Brogden, associate superintendent of facilities and bond programs. “One of the learning experiences is about the ocean, so students and teachers climb into an interactive submarine where students will learn about different mammals and life underwater.” In another pod, children spend several weeks learning about space before walking back into prehistoric time, where they can The Academy for Early Learners includes flexible common spaces that serve as gather- ing areas for students and staff outside of classtime. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL LYON PHOTOGRAPHY.