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Galileo School Founder Michele Gill Says Learning Should Be Engaging, Even During a Pandemic

Photo: R.D. Smith
Photo: R.D. Smith

The pandemic has forced huge changes in education, from online schooling to parents setting up their own "learning pods". UCF education professor Michele Gill says it’s important for parents setting up these pods to be united in their vision for the learning outcomes. 

Gill, who  founded Galileo School for Gifted Learning, a K-8 charter school in Sanford that uses hands-on learning, talked to WMFE’s Danielle Prieur about how the school adapted during the pandemic. 

The conversation begins with Gill describing some of the daily activities at the school.

Michele: They'll be raising money for an animal shelter or they'll be creating a card company to raise money for a local, another local organization of people in need.

You'll also see on the Riverbend campus animals, there was a goat visiting the other day there was a horse. There's chickens, we have chicken coops, we have a big pre-vet program. So they still get all their academics, they have their 90 minute reading block their math, science, social studies. But at the end of the day, this creative productivity time allows them to tap into their interests.

Danielle: How did you guys adapt all of that during the pandemic? And, you know, did you do kind of a combination of virtual and in person?

Michele: Right we started going completely virtual, like everybody did. And then, so we did that for the spring.

And then students were able to come back in the fall and have their choice. And they still have their choice.

So they can just like a Seminole County School, they have a choice of doing virtual or in-person learning, but even the virtual kids, the students at home are expected to engage in all the same projects. They the parents have to come to school and pick up the projects for that week. So if they're doing robotics, they pick up a robotics kit to bring home so their kids can do robotics.

Danielle: I've heard from a lot of parents, especially moms, that they are starting their own schools or are interested in starting their own school because of this pandemic. Some of them have started these learning pods, and they want to expand on that. You know, what sort of advice would you give to women out there who also want to start their own school maybe spurred on by this pandemic?

Michele: Pods are a really exciting thing I know of some other families who are doing this, this approach, but they need to be united on their vision, like, what do they see is the outcomes?

What do they want their kids to be like?

Do we want them to just be really good test takers? Do we want them to have a kind of prep school environment, you know, get into a good college kind of thing?

Do we care more about nurturing the whole child approach?

And so kind of getting on board with the mission-vision, because that determines everything. That determines what kind of curriculum you're going to want that determines what kind of director or whoever's kind of leading the school all that is the finance, what you're going to spend money on, etc.

Danielle: Can you tell me about some of your success stories and any tips you might have for parents who are because of this pandemic getting more involved in their child's education?

Michele: Well, I don't want to give names but I know there was one student who struggled I think we do very well with kids who have unique needs.

There was this one boy who particularly struggled with fidgeting and sitting still, and was struggling in his traditional public school. And when he switched to Galileo, he found the teachers there to be just so kind.

There was one teacher who kept a drawer full of fidget things for kids like him. So she would have you know, sugar-free chewing gum or little fidget spinners and things like that, that she would give out if he asked. So school didn't stop seeming so oppressive.

And now I've heard that this boy is going and got a National Merit Scholarship is going to a good college.

In terms of tips for parents, so one thing I do because I had a, I have a middle schooler at home is have him make sure he has planned times for exercise and for screen time breaks. So those are those are some helpful things for older kids with the younger kids. The best strategy I know of is to just try to work with the teacher to come up with the very beginning. Teach them all the basics, like here's how you log in. This is what you do to help.
Listen to the full conversation, by clicking on the clip above.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.