From the modern furniture and hand-painted couches to the occasional balance ball substituting for a chair, it's obvious from the second you walk into Lawton Chiles Preparatory School learning lab that this is not a traditional school.
"We're really a lab school, so we're looking at ways to re-imagine what education can look like," says the schools executive director and principal, Christine Ortiz. "We were founded four years ago with the intent of trying to figure out a way to do school that worked for twice exceptional students, which are students that are gifted but also have a learning disability or something else going on that complicates the situation."
Ortiz says they discovered that the best way to operate a school for twice exceptional students is really the best way to do school for all students. Now, the school will accept anyone looking to stray from the standard school setting.
"What we really try to do here is individualize everything about the school and customize ourselves as a school to what a student needs, so most of our policies are developed individually," she says. "So for example, our homework policy is not school wide, it's developed on a kid by kid basis."
Ortiz says the same applies to attendance or discipline policies -- it's tailored to individual students. Students still study the essentials, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic.
"Students are given blocks of time where they'll work on different projects or have access to do different labs and instructors," Ortiz says.
Twelve teachers teach at the school, though some are only part time. Ortiz says she runs her school much like a start-up company. She and the teachers develop the curriculum.
Ninth-grader Alana Wheller appreciates the approach. "We've had like some bumps and trials. Some things didn't' work. What I love about the school is it's like okay that didn't work out, lets revise it," she says.
There is no dress code here and everything is more casual here. The principal insists the children call her by her first name. Behind her trendy glasses, Ortiz is rocking a eyebrow ring and if you look closely, you'll see she also has a tongue ring and a few visible tattoos. Turning the old school rules and stereotypes upside down is what they do best at Lawton Chiles Prep.
"If they trust you," Ortiz says of the students, "then that opens up the path for real learning, exploration and all of that."