Imagine walking into a classroom and the first thing you do is yoga. Soft music plays in the background and your teacher greets you with a smile and a hearty, ''Bonjour!''
No, you aren't in France, nor are you in just any school. You are likely in Liberty Local Schools' new teaching program, the LEARN Academy.
LEARN is an acronym for Liberty Early Academic Resource Nest.
Kirsten Jacobs, an intern from Youngstown State University, instructs children in the first grade class of teacher Pam McCurdy, to form the letters of their spelling words with their bodies. Nicknamed Wiggle Words, the LEARN Academy in the Liberty Local School District, brought in a ballet teacher company early in the year to teach children the animation of forming words.
''Like little birds in a the nest, we give them the tools they need to out in the world,'' said Kathie Carlile, LEARN director and coordinator.
Carlile is the director of curriculum and grants and educational technology at the Liberty Local School District. After extensive reading and research, she felt the concept behind the LEARN Academy could give children learning experiences on a global scale.
''When I was a teacher, I just used to teach outside the box,'' Carlile said.
District officials call it a conversion school, but the Academy is a separate entity of the Liberty School District.
''It's a school within a school,'' said Superintendent Mark Lucas. ''We're trying to go up and beyond,'' he said.
The concept behind LEARN Academy began a year ago, Carlile said. After hearing about the possibility of starting a conversion school, she began researching the subject. Carlile said she also discussed the plan with the Ohio Department of Education and developed a curriculum, while still based on the state standards for education, teaches in a totally different way.
''We teach the whole child by incorporating the arts,'' Carlile said. ''Their brains are like little sponges right now, and it's amazing how they are soaking this up.''
The ultimate goal is to prepare children for global experiences, Carlile said. They are given tools, including several weeks of various languages, using visual methods of learning letters and spelling and relaxation techniques with a morning session of yoga at the beginning of each day.
''If a child is having trouble visualizing what they have to write, we can have them act out what they are writing,'' Carlile said.
Currently, the LEARN Academy consists of 127 students in kindergarten through second grade. Prior to the start of the school year, parents of students entering those grades were invited to a ''Get to Know You,'' night where the concept behind the school was discussed. Parents were given the choice of sending their children to the traditional school, or enrolling them in the conversion school. Parents also were sent flyers and mailings and could call the school for an explanation of the program.
LEARN Academy also has its own governing board made up of five people appointed by the superintendent. There is no tuition for students to attend and the school is financed through normal state funding methods. Grants also are being investigated to help fund school programs, Carlile said.
The program currently has six teachers in self-contained classrooms. Although students are still divided in to grades, the program allows for ''deployment opportunities.'' When a student is excelling in one subject, such as reading, they might take that class in a higher grade. Likewise, if they are having problems, they could take the class in a lower grade, Carlile said.
There are two other conversion schools in northeast Ohio, Carlile said, but this is the only program in Trumbull County .
Using YSU interns to help teachers in the classrooms offers more hands, eyes and ears, she said. Foreign languages are taught in seven-week interval and include French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Chinese.
Students also take regular field trips, traveling to the symphony, the Butler Museum of Art and once a month to visit and interact with residents of assisted living facilities.
A similar teaching method, call LEAD (Liberty Exemplary Academic Design) is expected to be available for seventh through ninth grades for the 2010-11 school year.