A FAMILY of YOUNG SOULS, education with a purpose
Visionary Schools that are changing the way we understand education and experience learning
In 1998-1999 we searched the United States for exemplary education. We were looking for visionary schools, schools of the future existing midst the norm of 20th century public and private education. What we discovered will stir your passion, spark your imagination, motivate your sense of duty, and give you several paradigms to emulate. Here are 12 very different schools that are accomplishing very similar ideals.
The small town school with international experience
Oak Grove School
Oak Grove School educates children who will contribute thoughtfully and compassionately to their families, communities, and the world. In addition to the academic foundation for college, graduates have a developed global view, a sensitivity toward their environment, and an investigation into the nature of their own thinking.
Oak Grove School is the only school founded on the philosophical ideas of J. Krishnamurti. It is based on two fundamental principles: 1] the importance of relationship, and 2] a willingness for both teachers and students to question and inquire together. Krishnamurti believed "there should be a place, an oasis, where one can learn a way of living that is whole, sane and intelligent." He said, "these schools exist...to bring about the excellence of spirit."
Teachers at Oak Grove School are dedicated to providing an educational environment in which students feel free to raise and investigate any issue. Helping students to read carefully, listen attentively, speak effectively, and write clearly across the curriculum are central objectives for every teacher. For example, when the students study wolves they study all of the aspects associated with wolves. They read stories, folk tales, or myths about wolves. They explore paintings of wolves and create their own renditions of wolves.
Oak Grove School teaches students from pre-school through high school. Children in Oak Grove preschool and kindergarten begin to reach out to others and explore the world around them. Projects specific to each child's development are designed to foster intellectual, creative and emotional growth. Outdoor activities develop a comfortable and respectful attitude towards the natural world. Basic skills in reading, writing and mathematics form the foundation upon which future academic proficiency is built.
At the elementary level classwork in the core subjects is supplemented by special instruction. Small class sizes allow teachers to respond to each student's emotional and academic needs. At the junior high level issues of emerging adolescence are investigated and discussed in an atmosphere of understanding and trust. Oak Grove provides a college-preparatory program while striving to develop a self-reflective capacity that leads to inner honesty, independence and integrity. A solid academic foundation is offered in English, math, science, social studies and foreign language and is balanced with other subjects such as art, photography, music, drama, ecology, physical education, life skills, community service and travel.
Students have an active part in maintenance of building, gardens, and grounds making important contributions to the atmosphere of the campus. Each grade adopts a community project, whether it is serving meals at homeless shelters, adopting an elder in a senior citizens home, assisting with Habitat restoration, aiding with ecological research of sea turtles, or sending clothing to Kosovo. -reported by Dr. Pamela Blosser
Creative Genius at Work
Upland Hills School
Just north of America's Heartland is a small school for children 5 to 14 that will be thirty years old next year. With eight full time staff and only 90 children, Upland Hills School, located in Oxford, Michigan, is a flourishing example of creative genius at work. "To know and be known" is the motto.
The curriculum is interactive and experiential combining many age groups. The staff is grounded in the belief that "every child has a gift, something to give others...the function of education is draw it out effectively, to bring it into the world and thereby make the world a better place," said Director Phil Moore.
The school day begins with Morning Meetings. The groups cover a two year age span and are referred to by the name of the teacher - Ted's group, Holly's group, Jan's group and so on. Each group works on a number of different "units" at any given time. The younger children recently did a "Grandparent" unit. The kids learned about their own grandparents. As Moore described, "Within a simple schematic unit like 'grandparents' you can teach a lot of the language arts activities, always within the context. You see the connection between discovering that my grandparents came from Romania, and this is where Romania is, this is how they colored Easter eggs, this is a Romanian song....all these very simple things that engage the children because it's about them." At the end of the year they hosted a Grandparents Day and invited everyone's grandparents to join in.
The older students have more complex units. Recently they built a greenhouse in a unit called the "Living Machine". Biology, math, physics, science, design and building skills were all taught in this unit. When the building collapsed under the weight of heavy winter snow, the kids had more lessons to learn. The group decided to rebuild and thus are realizing how to learn from their mistakes.
In the afternoon a variety of classes are offered that range from applied or natural science to performing arts, language, physical education and health. These classes mix kids of all ages. In a class that is doing wild food and mushroom hunting, you can have a 5 year old who is learning about what wild foods are and a 13 year old who is taking the wild maple and mushroom test to receive credit. Parents often teach the afternoon classes, volunteer time for fundraising and work as administrators. The first generation of students are now returning to enroll their own children.
This is also a "dream-come-true school" for teachers. Each summer the teachers meet to decide what units will be the greatest fun, the most challenging and the most interesting for the students. Phil remarks, "One of the things that I learned when I was in school was when a teacher was 'on fire' about what they were teaching it somehow got communicated and that fire spread. It's really about supporting a child in what they need to do, who they are and what they want to give others."
By sharing stories of students both recent and past, Moore aims to inspire others to believe they might start a wild school of their own. Upland Hills may be a spark that lights up the world and gives our children what they deserve, the best. -reported by Christine Andrews
The School that Works!
To make a better place, a better time, and a better people - this is the mission for Providence-St. Mel, "the school that works." Noted for its pursuit of academic excellence and its commitment to its African-American students, Providence-St. Mel stands in Chicago's tough West Side, an area notorious for some of the highest rates of crime, unemployment, and poverty in the country.
In 1978, worried about the school's financial viability and the area's growing violence, the Archdiocese of Chicago decided to close Providence-St. Mel School. Under the leadership of Principal and President Paul J. Adams III, the school reopened that same year as an independent academy, serving the needs of disadvantaged African-American girls and boys.
Every effort is made to provide students with an environment to stimulate the values of hard work, personal responsibility and self-reliance. Included in this effort is active participation in community development. Providence-St. Mel has purchased a number of houses in a six block area surrounding the school and is rehabbing the buildings in order to invite blue collar workers to the neighborhood. The premise is that as the children view people working, this will further the incorporation of the work ethic into their consciousness.
The mission of Providence-St. Mel is to provide an excellent education in a low-income, inner-city neighborhood. The yearly cost of education per student is $7,270. Of this, the maximum tuition received is $3,750 per student. Families sacrifice a great deal in order to pay what they can towards their child's tuition, however, Providence-St. Mel automatically assumes a portion of every student's tuition.
Despite adversities and injustices beyond its walls, Providence-St. Mel proves that inner-city students can compete and succeed when given the proper environment, materials and support. Often, students at Providence-St. Mel are the first in their family to complete high school. Additionally, all graduates of Providence-St. Mel are accepted to college, including such prestigious institutions as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Brown and Dartmouth.
Many graduates of Providence-St. Mel, appreciative of the education they have received, return to school to teach and to serve the community. Providence-St. Mel is a living testimony to every child's capacity to learn and grow and contribute to all of humanity. -reported by Teresa Martin
An Island of Excellence
The Post Oak School
The Post Oak School is an island of excellence. While providing a strong academic program, Post Oak also enables children to develop independence, responsibility, self-discipline, initiative, and a cooperative spirit.
Post Oak's success in the present is built upon a strong tradition. Montessori education has been opening eyes around the world since 1905--almost sixty years before Post Oak was founded as the first Montessori school in the Southwest. As the Head of Post Oak School John Long said, "We are connecting the brains, hearts and hands of the students. We want to give them a vision of their mission in life."
A non-profit corporation, the Post Oak School is managed by a board of directors. Fully accredited by the Association Montessori International (AMI), it currently enrolls 327 students. Enrollment is open to all children aged 14 months through eighth grade.
The infant community (ages 14 months to 3 years) includes easily reachable shelves and displays materials that stimulate a child's visual, tactile and auditory senses. As part of the curriculum, children learn to feed and clothe themselves and to interact socially as they begin to develop independence and a positive self image, and learn to communicate through speech.
The primary program (3-6 years old) incorporates tasks that encourage young children to fine tune their senses, improve muscular coordination, develop language and mathematics skills and respect the global human family. The teacher serves as a catalyst, interceding and directing the child or withdrawing and observing according to the child's needs.
The elementary program is divided into two age groups, lower elementary, 6-9 years, and upper elementary 9-12 years. Here students work in small groups on projects that spark imagination and engage the intellect. Studies include geography, biology, history, language, science, math, music and arts: with field trips into the community that foster further exploration. The school's butterfly garden integrates them all as the children observe and participate in the unfolding life cycle.
The middle school, 12-14-year-olds, presents a challenging academic program that combines hands-on experience with textbooks. Middle School students explore literature, language, the arts, history, government, science and mathematics. They take frequent field trips, like this year's to Washington, D.C., and contribute to the community through service projects. In addition, they use computers, and devote time to daily physical fitness, with the option to participate in extra-curricular competitive sports.
Tuition is $6,000-$7,000 per year at this Houston, Texas, school. (About the cost per student the government spends on public education-Ed.). -reported by Dr. Pam Blosser
A New School that Educates All Ages
St. Louis Children's Aquarium
St. Louis Children's Aquarium is a learning center that provides enriching experiences for all ages. This not-for-profit institution teaches science through hands-on participation. Their mission is to teach people about the aquatic ecosystems of the Mississippi River, Amazon River and the oceans beyond.
The facility has an on-site aquarium which 100,000 people attend each year. All of the exhibits show how essential water is for life to exist. You can learn how water flows through a cave. Children feed the piranhas at the Amazon River exhibit and pool. You can also hold many different turtles and pet a shark. Children can even sleep overnight with the sharks!
The St. Louis Aquarium also offers all day river adventures that teach agriculture, fishery, forestry and wildlife. Programs in environmental science are offered on site and can be taught in public or private schools or to groups and organizations upon request.
One of the strengths of this facility is teaching teachers. They teach science education enrichment workshops to pre-school through high school teachers. The facility is staffed by volunteers ages 12 and up. Here kids are teaching other kids. Young adults also learn to teach in internship programs for junior high, high school and college level students. The interns gain experience in marine biology and research.
The facility is well known for its research. So much so, that an audio/video collection was donated from the greatest marine life pioneer of the twentieth century, Jacques Yves Cousteau. The lending library for teachers also includes a most impressive collection of books, maps and information from the Aquacenter's own research. Behind the aquarium is a lab where research is conducted to benefit the world. Most of the research focuses on making the best use of our natural abundance. One resourceful project involves turning waste into food. They are also experimenting with fish farming that can be produced in any environment, even where water is scarce. Researchers share the results of their explorations through lectures and on their internet site. The internet site receives 50,000 visitors a month. This site includes a walk through of the on-site aquarium. You can also visit the Mississippi River, Amazon River and the deep ocean with actual film footage.
The St. Louis Children's Aquarium encourages children to have fun while learning about nature. As it says in their brochure, "Explore The Wonders Of Water-WOW! -reported by Teresa Padilla
The School the Parents Built
The Sycamore School
Sycamore School in Indianapolis, Indiana claims to be the only private school in Indiana dedicated entirely to gifted children. One thing is for sure, this school is full of heart and pride in who they are and what they offer.
Home is very much a part of this school. Sycamore was founded by parents who got together to provide the best education for their children. It started with a few mothers who had children in the same class. As they met one day in a home to assist in making classroom materials, they shared a desire for a gifted elementary school. They wanted a stimulating, challenging curriculum similar to the gifted preschool their children had attended. One woman said, "Why don't we just form our own school?" That was the beginning of "The Dream."
This small group rapidly grew to over 50 parents and educators who had a similar ideal. They set about raising funds for a building and searched for a place to hold school. They found a church building which they used for their first school with 111 kids attending. It was called the Sycamore School because of a huge, old sycamore tree on this original property.
Programs are based on four areas of emphasis: basic skills, enrichment activities, thought processes, and personal development. The school curriculum includes math, English, art, music, foreign language, language arts, science, social studies, and physical education. The children are able to play and work in a supportive atmosphere that sets free a child's curiosity and interest and encourages exploration and experimentation. For example, children learn to paint like Michelangelo by painting the ceiling in their own school.
Today, the school is housed in a larger building to accommodate the 410 students in preschool through eighth grade. Parents are still the heartbeat of this school. Out of seventeen members of the Board of Directors, thirteen are parents of children in the school. The parents and children still raise money for improvements and to provide higher education. This year, the school is breaking ground on a new building that will offer expansion to the music and art areas.
Being a parent myself, this school touched my heart. The school is itself like a huge sycamore tree - the parents are the roots and the children's education stems from this source. The vision and dream of the Sycamore School is to keep this connection to the roots. -reported by Teresa Padilla
Meeting the Needs of Students in Public, Private, & Home Schools
The Belin and Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development
is a non-profit organization meeting the needs of gifted and talented students. One of the major missions of the Center is to help public, private and homeschool teachers learn to recognize, encourage, and teach gifted and talented students. Academic talent searches are provided for students in 3rd-11th grades in many forms to recognize potentially gifted students.
Perhaps the most interesting and exciting part of the Center's activities is the many programs that serve gifted students in grades 3-11. There are a wide variety of classes ranging from individual Saturday sessions for students and parents to up to six-week summer sessions. Some are offered at the University of Iowa campus and others take place at nine other off-campus sites. Students are introduced to new knowledge, creative problem-solving, and sophisticated technology. One, a statewide program called Invent Iowa, promotes students' inventiveness and innovation at every grade level. They learn about the invention process and develop projects that reflect their creative talents. A number of young inventors have either received patents or have had their inventions marketed.
The Center is dedicated to exploring the nature of high levels of academic, inventive, and artistic talent and to increase the understanding of gifted individuals and their needs. A major mission is the sharing of expertise and information throughout the nation and increasingly throughout the world (they have a very active relationship with Australia at this time) to assist in establishing new programs and evaluate existing ones for gifted students. The family centered development with the international scope of this program earned its place in our listing. -reported by Mari Hamersley
One Room School House for 21st Century
Community School #1
in Kansas City, Missouri, has been in existence for over 25 years. Their philosophy is that every child is a genius and education means to bring that genius out. They believe that in order for peace to be in our world, people need to know how to live together and thus they emphasize community in their teachings.
In building a sense of community within the school, the director, Rebecca Liberty, has commented that there are very few discipline problems. This is attributed to the fact that the older kids teach the younger kids how to behave. This is one strong benefit of having mixed age levels together in one class.
All children work together in group activities. Writing, producing and putting on a play in German includes everyone. The experience is wholistic. Children learn to write, act, illustrate, sew, speak a foreign language, do the mathematics involved in set design, and identify geography.
At other times during the day the children are grouped according to skill to focus on one subject at a time such as math, English or science. Students create and publish a monthly newsletter called CS1 Gazette. Many field trips are incorporated into the curriculum. For instance, the students may visit a construction site during math class to learn how the math is applied in designing and building a structure.
Community service is a large part of CS#1. In one project, the children take all of the steps necessary to create and market a calendar to be used as a fund raising project. Money from this project was donated to support the continuing maintenance of a war memorial in Kansas City.
The students and the school are also becoming known in the metropolitan area for a project of cleaning the many fountains in the city. The area is well known for its beautiful fountains and the kids know they are a part of making their community a better place to live.
Currently CS#1 serves 30 students, kindergarten through sixth grade. The next step: extending curriculum through the high school level. -reported by Christine Andrews
The Eye of the Discoverer, Compassionate Heart of the Reformer
At the beginning of the 20th century, Rudolph Steiner wanted to give the world's children a complete educational system including mind, body, and spirit in all subjects. He did. It's called Waldorf education.
A visionary scientist, Steiner realized education must be based on a thorough understanding of the stages of human development, "It is necessary for human beings to remember not only what they already understand, but to come to understand what they already know."
In Steiner's view, the process of human development unfolds in cycles of seven years. The curriculum is based on the recognition that during each of these stages, children need forms of instruction and specific subjects and activities that will encourage healthy development. "Thought must take hold in a living way in children's minds," Steiner wrote, "so that they first learn and then judge."
Steiner believed in an ascending spiral of learning, an approach that presents all subjects to be taught very early in the curriculum, and then adds depth each year. For instance, physics may be introduced in the 5th or 6th grade. Each year thereafter the material and experiences are deepened and broadened. Henry Barnes, former Chairman of the Board of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, says, "The sixth grader who, as part of the class study of Roman history, has acted Cassius or Calpurnia or even Caesar himself, has not only absorbed Shakespeare's immortal language but has learned courage, presence of mind, and what it means to work as a member of a team for a goal greater than the sum of its parts. The 9th grader who has learned to handle red-hot iron at the forge has, in addition to a specific skill, gained self-discipline and the knowledge of artistic form."
When the Waldorf curriculum is carried through successfully, the whole human being has truly been educated. "By the time they reach us at the college and university level, Waldorf students are grounded broadly and deeply and have a remarkable enthusiasm for learning," observes Arthur Zajonc, Professor of Physics, at Amherst College. "Such students possess the eye of the discoverer, and the compassionate heart of the reformer which, when joined to a task, can change the planet."
Because the Waldorf educational philosophy repeatedly meets its aims, the demand for schools and qualified teachers is high. There are 700 Waldorf schools in 36 countries around the world, and over 50 full-time teacher training institutes. On-going training for teachers fosters a worldwide movement toward excellence through wholistic education, fulfilling the potential in teachers and their students. It is this outstanding quality of teaching teachers that earns Waldorf Education a unique place on our list. -reported by Paul Madar
Learning begins at birth
ABC & 123
Lovingly, she walks each student out to his or her parents at day's end, and for the last ones who live close by, out across the parking lot and the road to the gate leading into the yard. Each child seems to know that he or she will receive this last bit of individual attention and these 3- to 5-year-olds wait patiently inside the foyer of the classroom until his or her turn arrives. Such is the aura of attention projected by the director of the ABC & 123 Preschool Betty Elliot.
A modest lady while speaking of herself, Ms. Elliot undergoes a marvelous transformation when speaking of her duties teaching the children under her care. "One day, a boy who used to have such a hard time paying attention leaned over to me and said, 'I've never had a teacher who loved me before,' and then he went off to do something else." This love for her students so overwhelms the children's usual behavior that within just a few days after class starts each semester, Ms. Elliot relates that they show discipline, respect for each other and for themselves, and actually move from a gaggle of over-stimulated flighty young ones to a cohesive group of open-eyed attentive children.
Ms. Elliot isn't sure how her school might qualify as a center for gifted and talented children. She does not do testing or assessments or know of any to make. In her next breath, however, she admits to using Kindergarten and First grade materials for these pre-schoolers. One of the biggest initial lessons is sharing. She proudly talks of how the more mature children teach the younger ones to be aware that the toys will always be there to play with, and that it is more fun to play with others.
Parents are intimately involved outside of class. Though they are provided opportunities to observe, Ms. Elliot states that she warns parents ahead of time that she will probably not speak to them, as she will be giving her full attention to the children.
Ms. Elliot talks with undistinguished joy of the efforts of her graduated children. Now 10 years later, they are gaining honors and recognition in the public schools. She says they shine when they return to visit her.
Though in a relatively small basement that is rented from a church in Republic, Missouri, she has decided to continue using the same space and limiting school enrollment to 70 students in spite of having been offered a larger area. This is so that she may give her students the love and attention she feels they deserve.
The most powerful comment uttered from her lips is that she has been waiting all of her life for this opportunity. It is her mission. Children need that quality in every teacher. When such devotion is present from the beginning on the part of every teacher, developing gifted children who love to learn will be a natural event. -reported by Paul Ranney
The School Teaching How to Serve
Center for Purposeful Living
Formerly known as the University for the Study of Human Goodness and reported by Paul Ranney, M.A. Updated information 2006 by Sue Rose
If you love them, they will learn
Brisbane Academy (Charlotte, N.C.)
Incorporating regular school hours, an after-hours tutoring service, and through the summer program, this college preparatory school espouses academic guidance, social and emotional mentoring, and unconditional love for each individual as a being of light. Ms. White realized her desire to foster the bright souls they had tutored in 1995 after these became lost in the public school system. Starting with these original eleven students, Brisbane Academy has expanded to its limit of 90 students. Averaging three grade levels higher compared with public standards, Brisbane Academy contracts parent and student to foster the Global Family concept, in which all commit to self-betterment and respect. -reported by Paul Ranney
reprinted from Thresholds Journal, August 1999. Copyright 1999, School of Metaphysics, all rights reserved. Updated 2006.