BELLEVUE, Neb. — Classes have begun at a new high school in eastern Nebraska where teachers will serve more as mentors who challenge and engage students instead of lecturing.

Nearly a dozen ninth-graders from Omaha and Bellevue started school Tuesday at Next Generation Learning Academy on Bellevue University’s campus. Academy Chief Learning Officer Ray Ravaglia said all students are on scholarships.

The academy uses student-driven curriculum developed by nonprofit Opportunity Education. It’s designed to move away from lecture- and memorization-based lessons and toward comprehension-focused ones. Students work on projects called “quests” individually or with a mentor instead of listening to a teacher speak to the class, the Omaha World-Herald reported .

Academy Director Mark Smith said teachers move around the room questioning students and helping them dig deeper into specific topics.

Opportunity Education was started in 2005 by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, father of Gov. Pete Ricketts. The governor is also on the nonprofit’s board of advisers, according to its website.

Ravaglia said this year’s class could potentially expand by a few more students. The plan is to eventually add more grades and students in the coming years, but the school first had to find a batch of inaugural students.

“So, as you can imagine, some people liked what we had and just bought into it right away,” he said. “Others were more hesitant.”

Some parents have been concerned about whether the academy is accredited. All public schools in the state need to be accredited. Specialized schools only need to be approved by the state but can also receive accreditation if they want, said David Jespersen, spokesman for the state Department of Education.

He said the academy is approved but didn’t mention if it’s accredited.

Smith and Ravaglia said that after months of planning, they’re excited to get the students into the classroom.

The school is the first NGL Academy to open in the country and will be followed by another school in California next month.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com