Julie Brooks and KLA Academy’s innovative approach to early childhood education is turning heads while shaping young minds. Here’s why the school is worth a closer look.
As the Head of School at KLA Academy, Julie Brooks is passionate about providing the best educational experience possible for her students. She has been an educator for over 30 years, taught at several top schools and led a number different programs. But her goals and vision for the students at KLA Academy may be some of the most unique of her career, which makes sense when you consider the academy’s innovative approach to education.
A Different Philosophy
Brooks says that KLA Academy focuses on the common educational milestones of providing a well-rounded education, but it’s done in a way that is more in context with the students’ own lives, experiences and interests. “Our students drive their own learning, and teachers build off those interests. This type of learning provides students with the opportunity to learn the basics, to learn critical thinking skills and to develop executive functioning skills in an authentic and in an intrinsically motivated way,” says Brooks. “One of the hallmarks of our program is ‘the environment as the third teacher.’ Our classrooms are intentionally designed and set up to provoke thinking and to dive deeply into all aspects of learning.”
This unique philosophy is based on the Reggio Emilia Approach, an educational standard that has its roots in post–World War II Italy. At the time, parents in the city of Reggio Emilia were devastated by the destruction of the war; and they partnered with lifelong educator Loris Malaguzzi to take an entirely different approach to their children’s early education. “The approach unites and develops all languages of expression — innovation, nature, construction, fantasy, art, music, dance, building, writing, talking, singing, science, body and more,” says Brooks. “Through the multiple languages of expression, children build knowledge and an understanding of the world around them.”
Putting It into Practice
KLA has an innovative and progressive approach to education that is well grounded in research-based practices and pedagogy. The Reggio Emilia Approach was the inspiration for Candy and Roberto Ortega when they founded KLA Schools, a nationwide network of high-quality preschools, in the United States in 2008. Though most of the nationwide KLA Schools remain preschool centers, KLA Academy in Brickell is unique as this flagship school has expanded to include elementary curriculum. This year’s fifth-grade students will be the first graduating class at KLA Academy, and many of them have been at the school since they were preschoolers.
Brooks says that this is a major milestone for KLA Academy, as it has shown that the unique approach to elementary education is highly successful and prepares students to thrive at their next levels of education. “As evidenced by our first class of graduating fifth graders, our students are prepared for learning environments of their choice,” she says. “No matter where they choose to attend, we know they have the necessary tools, confidence and flexibility to be successful in middle school and beyond.”
By taking an innovative approach to education, KLA Academy provides students with the basics but also opportunities that they may not receive at other elementary schools. Some of their unique offerings include a “Movement & Music” class, a design and fabrication lab, art, Spanish and extracurricular options such as gymnastics, aerial acrobatics, ballet, karate, chess, DJ production and more. The school is getting ready to open their rooftop sports complex and has plans to offer a theater program and more student leadership opportunities in the near future.
Brooks says that a lot of the unique learning opportunities at KLA Academy have their origins in the interests of the students themselves. “Collaboration is a huge part of learning at KLA Academy,” she says. “Not only are students expected to think critically but to do so alongside others via dialogue, debate, analysis, cooperation and teamwork. There is so much to learn from your peers.”
All the while, these students are learning from some of the best educators in the profession, so parents can rest assured knowing that their children’s educational needs will be fully satisfied. “Our teachers are some of the most receptive and knowledgeable educators out there and continually strive to take their own learning to the next level,” says Brooks. “In my 30-plus years in education, I have not seen a group of teachers with such a deep desire for ongoing growth.”