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Finding the value in what’s discarded at Greenwood Learning Center

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Jonathan Weaver believes there is a metaphor in the work Greenwood Learning Center students do as they fix up and paint old school furniture to be sent back into classrooms.

The furniture, like the GLC students with severe emotional and behavioral issues, has been discarded and deemed useless, he said. But as Weaver has seen firsthand from the refurnishing of bookshelves and desks by his students, what has been discarded becomes new.

The GLC, which is part of Rome City Schools, takes up three classrooms in the building above Main Elementary School, and is where students from ages 8 to 21 come for an alternative education after other behavioral interventions failed to lead to positive results. Weaver is one of two teachers — the other is Dante Pinkard — at the GLC, which typically has about 12 kids attending it.

Essentially, the GLC is a place where square pegs are stopped from being hammered into round holes, and where an individualized education with a strong emphasis on project-based learning is provided for students so they can develop the skills necessary to lead a self-sustained life, Weaver said.

A three-part model focused on social, behavioral and academic skills is applied throughout each day at the GLC, with a schedule running from 7:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. throughout the week, Weaver said. Each student has a different schedule, however, as some work one-on-one with a teacher and some only come for a half a day after spending the rest of their time at their home school.

When the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital closed at the end of 2011, folding the adolescent program for kids, many who were basically “wards of the state,” with emotional and behavioral problems, the GLC took root at its current location, Weaver explained. With the change in place, more social instruction was added for kids in the program, he added.

Since the move, students have repurposed wooden pallets into 100 Adirondack chairs, which have been auctioned off by the YMCA of Rome & Floyd County and also sold to River Dog Outpost to fill out its seating. They’ve also fostered the growth of 50 plants and made 100 Rome High Wolves-themed bracelets. The profits from these sales return to the program and help keep it going.

About 90 to 95 percent of GLC students are from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds, Weaver said, and this increases the importance of giving them skills, like knowing how to paint or work on motors or grow their own food, that could possibly help them be their own boss or productively be a part of a work environment someday. These hands-on projects teach students the value of their work and delineates a direct relevance in their education, he continued.

Weaver said he and Pinkard have had to get resourceful in turning their classrooms into workspaces, like growing seedlings under the fluorescent lights of a classroom by stacking them in milk crates and placing them atop cabinets or spreading towels on desks or tarps on floors as students took apart an old Jeep motor or painted furniture.

For two years Weaver has been at the GLC, after leaving West End Elementary where he’d been for 10 years, and he said it has allowed him to bring himself into the program. His students respond to that vulnerability, he said, and being a teacher at the GLC has given him more freedom to incorporate his ideas into the classroom.

For example, Weaver is a painter, so one day he got the kids involved in painting the walls of the classroom. Usually, classrooms can be fairly loud at the GLC, but when the kids picked up those paint rollers, he said, all one could hear was the smacking of the paint being lapped onto the walls.

In Weaver’s opinion, kinesthetic learning is the most effective behavioral intervention, and if more schools increased the number of activities related to it, then students may not end up getting referred to the GLC in the first place.

Community involvement is also a big emphasis of the GLC, and is a way of monitoring student progress. Outside of building chairs or raised-bed gardens to be used out in the community, to show the impact of their work, students have also helped in maintaining the North Rome Community Garden.

One of Weaver’s favorite stories is that of Michelangelo selecting the hunk of marble that would eventually become the sculpture of David. The quarry master was almost incredulous that Michelangelo would pick such a tattered piece of marble for his sculpture, telling him he’d chosen the worst of his offerings.

However, when the quarry master saw the end result of Michelangelo’s making, he asked him how he had done it. Michelangelo replied that the sculpture was in there all along, all he had done was remove the stone. And for Weaver and the GLC, that’s exactly what they do.