INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Decatur Central High School's football team is far from the only program at the school that knows how to make highlights.
Several times in recent weeks, Decatur Central students have made news for off-the-field efforts.
For instance, one group produced the Peyton Manning-parody youtube hit "Peyton's Coming Home."
Another arranged for the September visit from the famed "John Lennon Educational Tour Bus."
And freshmen at the school coordinated and executed a massive day of service that left several school in much better shape.
One reason such students are able to focus on such large-scale projects is that Decatur Central approaches education in a very unconventional way.
The school is comprised of "Small Learning Communities", called SLCs, in which students spend most of their class time.
The school building is truly unique in that it was built specifically to house the SLC concept.
Murals give visitors the first indication that things are out-of-the-ordinary: A different mural marks the front wall of each hall of the building, signifying which SLC occupies that hall.
Decatur Central has five Small Learning Communities, each led by its own director who is, essentially, a principal - making staffing decisions, dealing with budgets and handing out discipline.
Each SLC teaches students different things in different ways, based on what and how they want to learn. The students stay with their SLC all four years.
Freshman Mason Cothron feels the concept has already helped him.
"I was a new student here, so I didn't have a lot of friends when I got here. So it was a good way to bond with a lot of people," he says.
Cothron is in the SLC called "Choice," which aims to help students become global citizens and leaders.
In addition to the usual high school course topics, each class in Choice must organize a service day this school year.
Freshmen were first; they spruced up several schools and spending time with young students.
"I actually didn't think it was going to be that fun," says freshman Nicholas Howard. "But it was a lot of fun, actually."
Cothron adds he got "more of a sense of accomplishment with myself knowing that I've always had a decent life, so why not be able to make others better?"
The service day went well, according to the Choice faculty.
"I stood back and I was like, wow, this is really good," says teacher Brent Dikeman. "There were students you'd see not normally doing work doing work. It was really well-orchestrated. Really well done."
The other SLCs are:
- "New Tech," which features unconventional classes housed in a hall full of open spaces
- "Q&I," or Quest and Inquiry. It is heavy on student-driven learning through collaboration.
- "ICE," Imagine, Create, Express, is the school home for students with great interest in the arts. That's the SLC that hosted the John Lennon Education Bus Tour this month.
- "EDGE" is a Communications-intense SLC. Students in EDGE are the ones who produced "Peyton's Coming Home."
SLC's are unconventional and to some, still controversial. Even supporters say most districts have logistics and building design hurdles that would hinder the potential success of SLCs.
But Decatur Central does not face some of the most daunting hurdles, especially since the building is specifically designed and built support the system.
In calling the program a success-in-progress, Decatur Central's principal points to the dropout rate. He says five years ago, half of all incoming Freshmen would not make it to graduation four years later. He says now more than 80 percent stay with school all the way through.
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