WEST FARGO — A program that could be the basis for new learning models, which includes virtual reality and individualized learning plans, is moving forward.

Last week, parents of Freedom Elementary School received an email from the district about the opportunity for students to join the Freedom Innovation Academy that will be held at Deer Creek Elementary School next fall.

District officials were hoping to have about 100 students in grades two through five interested in joining the program that would send the students to Deer Creek Elementary School as a way to try out the new program and ease overcrowding expected at Freedom in the fall.

Assistant Superintendent Rachael Agre said the interest survey closed on Friday with about 40 kids whose parents said they would definitely or may be interested in the program.

Although the district didn't reach the 100 mark, Agre said she felt like it would be enough students to help the overcrowding issue somewhat and move forward with trying the new program.

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"I think we'll move forward and hold an informational meeting for those parents, but a date for that meeting has not been set," she said.

Agre said staff will also need to figure out how Freedom will handle the population boom. Solutions could include large classrooms or utilizing space to hold 27 sections.

The Freedom Innovation Academy would be created first by shifting the volunteer students in grades two through five at Freedom Elementary School to a separate wing at Deer Creek Elementary School. The wing would have dedicated classrooms and classes would be held through spring 2023.

The Innovation Academy at Deer Creek will attempt to use the framework of North Dakota Choice Ready. Choice Ready is designed for seniors in high school, but staff said the district wants to begin Choice Ready learning as soon as possible. That model involves personalized learning that includes community service, 21st-century skills, extra activities and career choice programs as well as capstone projects. It will also use Quiver, an app that focuses on socio-emotional learning such as compassion and resiliency and allows students to be in a virtual house with other students so they can support one another. The focus of Quiver is relationships, self-reflection and understanding each person matters.

The Innovation Academy will have "maker spaces" that will allow students a place to create and work.

Funding fort the Innovation Academy will be in part from Elementary and Secondary School Relief Funds or ESSER funds, which is state and federal COVID-19 relief funding. West Fargo is expecting to receive nearly $23 million in ESSER funds, some of which is expected to be used on innovative learning.

"Not only is this program a solution to our continuous growth in the Freedom neighborhood, it provides us an avenue to expand on the work we have done in offering students a curriculum that prepares them for the world of today and the world of tomorrow," Agre said.

Transportation will be provided by the district for Freedom students who will need to be bused to Deer Creek. Buses will first drop off Freedom students at Freedom in the morning and then drop off Innovation students at Deer Creek; the reverse would happen in the afternoons.

Freedom Innovation students would remain Freedom Flyers and would bus back to the school to continue sports and intermural programs at Freedom Elementary.

Agre said there may be times grade levels are blended. A classroom that is multi-age most of the time would depend on enrollment.