Saturday, September 13, 2008

A different view of education

Because of the inevitable demolition of Turner Courts, we have transitioned all of our After-School Academy efforts to the Roseland TownHomes.

We had such quality volunteers and partnerships in Turner Courts. I must admit, I was concerned that it would take us a while to get to that point in Roseland. But it's all coming together.

For the last 10+ years, I have created my own philosophy (based on a lot of research, of course) that kids learn through educational (not necessarily academic) experiences. I have also found that kids will get excited about whatever excites those around them.

So, I look for people who are excited and passionate about what they do...or about a particular hobby they have. Those are the types of people I seek...and, therefore, those are the people I find.

For our Kinder-5th program at Roseland, we have financial literacy, technology (if you are passionate about teaching all of the new and exciting aspects of technology--blogging, twittering, PhotoStory, etc.--please let me know...I'm still looking for this person), hip hop dance, chess, history, art, and nature (by a naturalist...which I am SO excited about!).

I am constantly asked to quantify and "prove" that what we are doing is working. I have such a hard time doing that. I often can't explain it...not until years later when they have gone off to college...and are determined (no matter what grades they are making) to keep doing better, to graduate, and many of them have already discussed their plans with me to complete grad school as well. But by then, the monthly reports have already been submitted and we are on a completely different generation of Kinder-5th graders.

Today the Sudbury Valley School was brought to my attention. Though I have often questioned Montessori education...mainly because I grew up with traditional school as my norm, because I hear that their students often do better than traditional school students...the Sudbury Valley School seems to be even less structured than Montessori. But, as I read more, it reminded me of our After-School Academy. Their philosophy is that life is learning!...and if you are interested in and excited about something, you will work to understand all aspects of it. This type of exploratory learning often translates into reading, writing, math, etc. at much higher levels than anticipated by traditional teachers and traditional schools who would usually "instruct" a child.

Here's an interview with Mimsy Sadofsky, a lady who helped develop the school:

Mimsy: What is meaningful to you is easier to learn than what is not meaningful to you. It's as simple as that. So if you're excited about something or interested in it, you tend to learn it much more quickly which is one of the reasons we don't worry about the fact that many kids spend very little time doing what looks like academic work here; we know they're perfectly capable of doing any of that stuff whenever they want to.

Daria: If children don't choose the basics to learn, do they waste their time year after year after year? What happens if they choose to go fishing, an example you have in one of your books?

Mimsy: The child who chose to go fishing wasn't exactly missing the basics. He was reading about fishing and doing research on fish and doing all sorts of things that had to do with fishing. ... Many people gain knowledge more through reading and others more through conversation or visual stimulation, so we're not worried about the basics. We think if they're basic everybody will figure that out for themselves, and they do. Also, it's not as if they're here in isolation, because they're here six, seven hours a day and then they go back into the rest of the world and they have a very clear idea from the rest of the world, and from their friends who are students here, what people think of as important and as basic.

Though we don't do everything like Sudbury, our philosophy is much in line with her comments here. Children who learn chess, connect with nature, and experiment with technology may not seem to be getting the traditional academics needed to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS), but creating an environment where people are passionate about what they know rubs off on the kids. And though it may not immediately increase TAKS scores, I have found that it creates the motivation and determination to succeed.

College hasn't been easy for the majority of our kids; most weren't adequately prepared in high school. But that hasn't stopped them. I choose to believe that their determination and desire comes from what they experienced when they were in our University of Values summer program or our After-School Academies. I think many of them would say the same.
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