Liberty Tech Principal Mike Stewart and his school reflect on a succesful year with a bright future ahead. (Staff Photos by Justin Fedich)

Inside the old Brooks Elementary School, the walls are covered in creativity.

Walk down one hallway and take a trip through the solar system. Turn the corner, and learn what weapons were used in World War I. Keep walking, and see a wall of explorers and inventors.

It’s all a part of the project-based learning model at Liberty Tech Charter School, which is wrapping up its first year. The school, which currently teaches third through eighth graders, drew kids from nine counties and taught in a unique way where students were rarely sitting at their desk in a classroom.

On a November night, Liberty Tech Principal Mike Stewart saw how beneficial the project-based learning style could be for his students. As more than 500 parents walked through the hallways of Liberty Tech, the students presented the creations they had been working on, dressing up as historical figures and other characters to proudly display their work.

The new learning model was difficult at first for the students, many of whom came from traditional learning settings, but the teachers wouldn’t let the children fall into their comfort zone.

“I’m not going to tell you what to do,” Stewart said the teachers would tell the students. “You’ve got to figure it out.”

The school has 274 students who come from nine different counties in Georgia, some who live as far as an hour away to go to Liberty Tech. Stewart said he likes that students have the choice of attending school, because not everyone learns the same way.

“Just because you live on the same street, you might be next door neighbors, it doesn’t mean you need the exact same thing from your school,” Stewart said.

Next year, the school plans on expanding to 420 students and include kindergarten, first, and second grade. Lockers are also going to be built for the middle school students.

The school, which had originally planned for a year-round schedule of 210 days and gradually adding high school grades to the school, has scaled back a bit.
Due to the cost of supporting extracurricular activities for high school age students and the challenges that come with holding school year round when an older sibling has a shorter school schedule, Liberty Tech announced in April it would only have a 187-day schedule and stick to K-8 for the immediate future.

“We’ll go to high school if the demand ever gets there and gives us the ability to do it, but we’re going to focus in the interim on being a K-8 school,” Stewart said.

While the school doesn’t yet teach high school age students, the four latin words on the school’s logo would indicate that it’s an institution for college students. Prudentia (prudence), iustitia (justice), fortitudo (fortitude) and temperantia (temperance) are big words for small kids, but they’re words that teachers tell the students to exhibit all the time, even when walking through the halls.

Liberty Tech sudents collaborate on a project.

When Stewart was working in corporate America, he said he noticed how others struggled to make the transition from an education setting to a workforce setting. As a result, Stewart wants to prepare his students not just to succeed in high school and college, but in their careers.

One big way Liberty Tech is teaching students to succeed in the workforce is by showing them the importance of failing through project-based learning.

“They’ve realized that failure doesn’t mean I’ve done something wrong,” Stewart said. “It’s just an opportunity to learn something new. It’s to give [them] an opportunity to try something different to try a new path, and they’re not scared to mess up anymore.”

The school holds tours twice a week on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. and Fridays at 10 a.m. Stewart said since October, well over 200 families have toured the school. Liberty Tech has had roughly 300 applicants, and only about half those spots are available via lottery.

In addition to making the learning project-based, Liberty Tech combines STEM and classical teaching principles, because Stewart believes it’s important to have aspects of both. Stewart hopes the school can continue to expand each year because he believes this teaching model works.

The small school in Brooks might look like normal on the outside, but a walk through the hallways tells another story.

“We’re trying to break the mold,” Stewart said.