Teacher says area cities need to work together
ATHENS — Chris Paysinger has been teaching for 20 years and says it’s never been as much fun as now.
Paysinger is a history teacher for high school students in the Athens City Schools’ project-based learning academy housed in an historic building, complete with brick walls and heart-pine floors, on Marion Street in downtown Athens.
It shares the space with Athens Renaissance School, a K-12 virtual and blended school that offers personalized educational options for students in Athens and across the state.
“This is my 21st year as a teacher, and I’ve never had more fun,” he said. “My blood pressure has dropped 15 points since I left the traditional classroom.”
Paysinger describes the academy, which focuses on students' interests and development of real-world skills, as a “learning laboratory.”
By providing individualized learning plans for students, “you empower kids to learn on their own terms,” said Paysinger, a former member of the Athens Board of Education. “We’re trying to customize their education so they can be as successful as they can be.”
Math, science and English teachers are also part of the project-based learning team, working with about 30 high school students who come to the program from the Athens school district and statewide. The project-based learning option is also available for K-8 students.
“It’s so hands-on, and it’s all about fostering ingenuity, curiosity and innovation,” said Paysinger, a third-generation educator.
Among the projects students have tackled are creating a pop-up park from a disheveled alley in downtown Athens and building a table from 175-year-old salvaged poplar from a Tennessee farmhouse.
Paysinger taught driver’s education at Smiths Station High School for a year, then taught history at Sparkman High School for the next 15 years before coming to Athens.
“Athens and Limestone County is a fantastic place to live, raise a family and find happiness,” Paysinger said. “Athens is poised to grow as north Alabama develops in the coming years. But it has to be smart growth, something that is unique, that saves the historic fabric of this place. We can’t just become an interstate exit.”
Paysinger called for involving more people in the process of moving Athens forward.
“The Athens City Schools district is already doing so, engaging the community in what we hope for in our children’s future,” he said.
“And we must become a better regional partner with Decatur and Huntsville,” he said. “North Alabama will be better together.”