- Associated Press - Monday, August 11, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - On Tuesday, 50 Springfield students will start eighth grade in a hospital.

Forty fifth-graders will go to class in a science museum.

They’ll be part of two new Springfield Public Schools programs starting this year outside of traditional school buildings. The Health Science Academy will be at Mercy Hospital, while the Academy of Exploration - with a science, technology, engineering and math focus - will be housed at the Discovery Center of Springfield.

They mark the largest expansion of off-site “choice” or special academic programs in recent years. They owe their existence, in part, to the popularity of the Wonders of the Ozarks Learning Facility, or WOLF, program for fifth-graders in partnership with Bass Pro Shops, The Springfield News-Leader reported (http://sgfnow.co/1kWKXFl ).

Superintendent John Jungmann said the programs wouldn’t be possible without strong community support and partnerships. He added that while locales may be unorthodox, the curriculum was crafted to better engage and empower students to learn in hands-on ways.

“We need to give parents and kids options relevant to experiences that excite them,” he said.

Technology and flexible learning spaces - utilizing the entire science museum and hospital campus - is designed to allow students to conquer traditional academic subjects, such as science, through different approaches.

Students were selected through a random lottery, although there was an even split of boys and girls. All students could apply as long as they had a history of good behavior and attendance.

At the Academy of Exploration, Jungmann said students will “explore the world around them through multiple lenses of science, technology, engineering and math.” He added: “We know the future job market for our kids lie in a lot of those areas.”

Grafton Miller, 10, knew immediately the academy at the Discovery Center was for him.

“It seems really fun. There will be a lot of projects,” said Miller, who attended Cowden Elementary last year. Grafton’s dad, Steve Miller, said his son has always been good at science and building things.

Korbin Ewing, who also attended Cowden last year, said he applied to both fifth-grade programs, the Academy of Exploration and WOLF. He is excited to be part of the academy’s first year.

“I was proud that I got picked,” Ewing said. “Science is really nice and full of experiments and hands-on stuff.”

Parents are required to provide transportation, and the school supply list is unique to each program. All students must wear uniforms.

At a recent parent meeting, Amber Langston was working to set up a carpooling schedule with other interested families. Her son Gabe, 11, attended Harrison Elementary in southwest Springfield, and the drive will be a long one each day.

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