The University of Louisiana at Lafayette plans to establish a lab school which provides education majors an opportunity to attain hands-on experience with youth around the community.
The UL Lafayette Learning Laboratory project is led by an interdisciplinary team of faculty across the university and the College of Education. According to Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Aimee Barber and Director of the Center for Innovative Learning and Assessment Technologies Douglas Williams, there are a number of factors that affected Louisiana education. A growing teacher shortage is among those issues, with more than half a million teachers leaving the profession since 2020.
“It’s a tangle of issues,” Williams said.
In an effort to combat the ongoing teacher shortage and to elevate Louisiana out of a perpetual low-standing for education nationally, future teachers within the education major at UL Lafayette will be given an environment that provides hands-on experience.
“We plan to immerse upcoming teachers in the lab school,” Barber said.
Education students in their third year will be placed in the lab school, which grants the opportunity to develop skills that will carry on into their internships and careers.
With the Learning Lab, the team seeks to develop and exercise new practices for upcoming teachers such as maker-centered learning and design thinking. They aim to not only develop knowledge, but the skills and disposition to effectively implement what they have learned when moving into year-long residencies.
According to Barber and Williams, the Learning Lab seeks to mediate these issues by building respect and prestige for the profession of teaching and streamlining the process for new teachers. Louisiana teachers can bring these aspects into schools across the state by utilizing the strategies they learned from the Learning Lab.
“We asked ourselves, how do we take a seat at the table for improving education,” Barber said. “We have a foundation for improving education, but it’s been so disorganized until now.”
Additionally, the Learning Lab will partner with schools around the state to invite teachers to attend trainings in the school to spread the techniques and processes being developed. The teachers who attend these trainings can then bring them into their native school and implement these techniques. This can identify the strengths and weaknesses in the developing techniques in how they interact with other learning environments.
A primary focus for the Learning Lab will be the development of the students attending. It will incorporate a variety of unique methods for learning, including outdoor classrooms, maker spaces and cooking labs. It seeks to offer an environment that will promote growth in multiple facets of development, both creative and analytical.
Using these methods, Roberts said he hopes that students will be encouraged towards science, technologies, engineering and math.
“We want to get them interested in STEM early, so that spark will stick around,” professor Nathan Roberts with Education Foundations and Leadership said.
Roberts plans for youth attending the Learning Lab to go on trips which would use the knowledge they accumulated throughout the year and to apply this knowledge in a practical setting.
The school will eventually offer an environment for students from kindergarten up to 12th grade. The team plans to open the school initially from kindergarten through third grade, and add more grades as development progresses.
Students of the lab school will not be limited to local youth.
“This isn’t just a school for faculty students,” Barber said. “We want this to reach a diverse number of students across Acadiana, Lafayette and the whole state.”
Students will pay tuition to attend, but some students may apply to pay a reduced or no tuition to attend.
The school will implement an after school program which would be available to students from different schools across the area. It will offer non-Learning Lab students a chance to experience the same learning techniques used at the Learning Lab.
From day one, students of the Learning Lab will be considered students of the university, and have access to the benefits given to college students. They could access Edith Garland Dupré Library, the student fitness center, and any other service that a Cajun Card can access. “This may entice them to stay with the university following high school, and bring the skills they developed back into our university,” said Roberts.
While attending students may be analyzed for research, Barber says she hopes they can provide a suitable environment for student growth.
The school will fall under an independent school district, meaning they will not be required to prepare for standardized testing the same as schools in the Lafayette Parishes.
“We will follow state guidelines, but how we go about it is totally up to us,” said Roberts.
While the school will have access to similar funding as other schools in the area, they have restructured it in a way that is suitable for the school’s operations.
“We created a budget to make it work,” Roberts said. “Others may look at us and say, it only works because of the funding, but that isn’t the case. We have the same funding as other schools, we just used it differently.”
The Learning Lab is a project that UL Lafayette has worked on for several years. “We’ve been working on this for eight or nine years now, and we are really the closest we’ve been,” Roberts said. “If it fails, that alone is research. The freedom to try that research is what the lab school is all about.”
Completion of the Learning Lab is still a few years off, according to Roberts.
“If we wanted to open for the fall of next school year, we would have to be fully ready now, and we just aren’t,” Roberts said.UL Lafayette is currently looking into renovation opportunities to provide a home to the UL Lafayette Laboratory School. For updates about the UL Lafayette Learning Lab and to learn more, go to https://www.ullearninglab.org/, where you can request updates as they become available.