Thursday, December 18, 2014

Who Will Love Me as I Am?

My family loves Broadway musicals. Over Thanksgiving break, we saw a particularly wonderful--and personally meaningful--revival of a musical called "Side Show." We had been fans of the show for years, as it had a regrettably short three-month run in 1997, and the girls grew up listening to the soundtrack [as of this writing, it has already been canceled after a two-month run, which is baffling due to the rave reviews it received].

The show is based on the true story of conjoined twins Violet and Daisy Hilton, who were the headliners of a carnival "freak show" in the 1920's. They went on to be the highest paid performers in Vaudeville history and, sadly, performed their swan song in the cult exploitation movie "Freaks." The first act centers around their life in the side show and introduces the audience to the other performers--the bearded lady, the chicken-head-eating geek, and the dog boy among others. The show opens with a barker enticing people to "Come Look at the Freaks." Each performer colorfully plays up his character to a lasciviously voyeuristic audience. But behind the dark glamour of the side show, we quickly learn that the performers lead a harsh life bereft of human comforts and respect from their cruel "owner." Still, the performers find comfort in their shared circumstances; they live as a family and support each other come what may.

The show has many powerful moments and runs the audience through the gamut of human emotions. But it is the end of the first act that really sticks with me. As Violet and Daisy earn more accolades, talent agents come knocking, eager to make money off of them--and the spectacle of their being conjoined. The sisters dare to dream that the world will love them as performers and that the agents, who quickly become suitors, will love them as people. After some heartbreaking moments in which the twins come to learn that the men they have fallen for are ashamed of them, they declare their sorrow and question "Who Will Love Me as I Am?" The duet is hauntingly beautiful. "Who could see beyond this surface?" they ask. But the most powerful moment comes at the song's end as the lights illuminate the entire cast behind them echoing their words: "Who could proudly stand beside me? Who will love me as I am?"

The message is stunning: We are all "freaks." We are all in search of love. All of us. And there are moments in our lives when we question if we will ever really find it. Sounds depressing, I know. But to me, the message is one of commonality, of unity, of shared human experience. When we recognize that we are all on a quest for acceptance and love--one of the core tents of the Adlerian psychology on which Positive Discipline is based--we are better able to empathize, to see beyond the surface, to form deep relationships out of respect for the pain of others. Just as we inevitably feel the same pain. For example, actions that on the surface appear to be borne of anger or ill-will are really based on fear, something we can all relate to. Knowing that, we can truly empathize and help each other grow.

It makes me so sad that you will not be able to see "Side Show" on Broadway. But the soundtrack is out there. If you want to hear for yourself, click here to listen to it. And feel your capacity to empathize grow ever greater.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thinking Ahead

We all "think ahead" to what's next. What's coming up today? What do I need to plan for this week? What's happening this month, this year, that I need to anticipate? This is a temporal way of thinking ahead. But I look at thinking ahead as a qualitative description--a way of thinking that goes beyond the way we have thought traditionally.

High Meadows practices both kinds, but excels particularly in the qualitative. Here are some contrasts with conventional "school" thinking that will show you what I mean:

Conventional Thinking vs. High Meadows' "Thinking Ahead"

Academic rigor vs. Intellectual vitality
Preparation for life vs. Life itself*
Be the same vs. Be the change**                               
Tell vs. Ask
"Houston, we have a problem." vs. "Atlanta, we can find a solution."
Teacher as pail-filler vs. Teacher as fire-starter***
Accept information as truth vs. Question the veracity of information
Study it vs. Do it
“Good job on your essay!” vs. “The metaphors in your essay are quite vivid!"
Book report vs. Book review
Specials vs. Connections
Compliance vs. Self-advocacy
Flourescent light vs. Sunlight
Arbitrary Punishments vs. Logical Consequences
“Work quietly on your own." vs. “Work together and talk it through.”
“School? Nooooooo!” vs. “School? Yessssssss!”

What did I miss? Comment and let me know!

*Props to John Dewey
**Props to Mahatma Gandhi
***Props to William Butler Yeats

              

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How High Meadows Staffers Communicate When They Need Help

What follows is an email exchange between Middle Years English Teacher Meddie Finnegan and Technology Integration Specialist Mitch Novy. Meddie's Activboard was acting up and she was requesting Mitch's assistance. This is how the interaction went down...

Dear Mitch,

I have the Activboard blues. This time the keyboard won’t work. Here’s a little song I wrote about it – for your entertainment.

I have the active board blues
I feel it in my shoes,
A keyboard that won’t work
Mr. Calibration is a jerk.
The hard drive, she is fussy –
A deep hibernation hussy,
And a pen that was on the lam
Really left me in a jam
The active board blues -
Oooooh, the active board blues –

Whoooaaa whooooaaaa 


Dear Meddie,

Here is a rap version of my response:

Yo, my name is Mitch and I’m here to say
I don’t want you to feel dismay.
Activboards can be a useful tool
But when they don’t function, you look like a fool.
I’ll bring a new keyboard from our stash.
That old one you have belongs in the trash.
I’ll check the board’s pen for you, Meddie,
We’ll get you back to being happy and ready.

Word.

Needless to say the problem got fixed right away.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Experiencing Forgiveness

I overheard something extraordinary in the Early Years Building this morning (I don't usually slink around surreptitiously and eavesdrop on our teachers and students, but I couldn't help it this time).

A teacher was seated on the floor outside of her classroom with a young student. From what I could glean, the student was not getting along well with one of his classmates. 

"She keeps bumping into me and she knows she's doing it," said the student. "She did it last year too and it makes me mad."

After guiding the student to think of his own strategies to improve the relationship, he sat quietly. "Are you OK with this?" asked the teacher. "Something tells me that you're not."

Her heartfelt sensitivity to the child's feelings opened him up right away. "I just don't think it's going to stop," he said.

"Do you know what it means to forgive?" the teacher asked. "I like to think of people as lumps of clay. We can be molded and changed, and we are never the same. It's possible to change and be different shapes over time. So if you give her time and space, you might notice that she has grown and changed too."

The student sat quietly, presumably pondering what the teacher had just said. Sensing that she needed to go a bit further with him, she said, "You know, bad feelings about someone can weigh on your heart like a boulder. It can actually make you keep feeling angry if you don't let go of that heavy boulder."

What a lesson! The teacher, demonstrating natural intuition and compassion, engaged the student's trust as he shared with her his honest feelings. She guided him in coming up with his own strategies. She then used metaphor, a powerful teaching tool, to illustrate the nature of change and the ill-effects of holding on to resentments.

I hope the outcome is as strong as the lesson, but the lesson itself will stay with this student for a long time. I know it will stay with me.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Light in Her Eyes

"Our kids LOVE going to school now."

"My four-year-old asked me about which planets have rings."

"The light in her eyes is on again!"

Over the past week, I have started each morning by having breakfast with new families and listening to their stories. The quotes above are just a sampling of observations about their children's responses to High Meadows.

Of the three quotes, the third one (or variations thereof) is probably the one I hear the most often. 

As parents, we know that light. It signals discovery, joy, love. We look for it every day and celebrate it when we see it. We also know the pain of seeing that lack of light, which we interpret as boredom. Lack of engagement. Resignation. 

For me, hearing that a child's eyes are illuminated is the highest praise possible for High Meadows and what our teachers do so well. They create an environment in which children feel invariably comfortable and confident. They encourage them to play and to question. Our teachers show respect for children as fellow human beings with a thirst for learning. And our kids love them for it.

Our great wish is that our children will continue to shine that light. As a beacon of light always does, it draws us in and guides us. May each child's light show other children--and all of us--the way to a full, joyful life.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Patriot or Globalist: Can You Be Both?

Last week’s Tire Swing e-newsletter featured an article about our fourth and fifth graders’ study of human rights, which culminates in a public Exhibition Monday evening. The visual that accompanied the article (see below) displayed the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which lists the rights that all humans should have, regardless of nationality. Some examples: the Right to Equal Representation, the Right to Belong to a Religion, the Right to Education. Pretty hard to take issue with these, right?

After emailing the newsletter, I received a reply from a recipient outside of the school: “My goodness. What happened to the Bill of Rights? Is that taught anymore?” It's a fair question. I believe it's imperative that our students learn about the governmental system we created and appreciate the national ideals we hold dear.

Quite by chance, I ran into the recipient of the email that very evening. After exchanging greetings, I thanked him/her (trying to protect his/her right to privacy) for the email and the question. I went on to explain that we study the Bill of Rights and the U.S. government extensively in third grade and again in middle years.

I like to think that nothing much surprises me anymore, but I was taken aback at the reply I received: “Well, that article scared me. I mean SCARED me.”

I didn’t really know how to respond to that gracefully, so I said something like “Don’t be scared,” using a patronizing tone like one might use with a very small child. What I should have said was, “Fear, specifically the eradication thereof, is the reason we have students go through such learning experiences.” I should have said that people learn empathy and understanding by breaking out of their comfort zone, by working to become less ignorant about others, by learning to question their own assumptions and judgments. I should have taken the moment to help him/her understand that there are universal, global truths that transcend borders and languages. I’m sure that person would have taken me by the hand and tearfully thanked me for helping him/her see the light.

At the risk of being too judgmental myself, my mind extrapolated what I thought might be that person’s deeper message. A continued dialogue might have led him/her to point out that patriotism is more important than globalism. That we should be teaching students the Bill of Rights instead of (as opposed to alongside of) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That the investigation and appreciation of different cultures, customs, and ways of life erodes the foundation of our own rights as citizens of the United States.

Whether my interpretation of the exchange was accurate or not or somewhere in between, it did set me to thinking about the supposed mutual exclusivity that some folks feel about valuing the world and valuing our nation. I reject such a notion. I value being a citizen of the United States. I love the freedoms I have grown up with, and I know that they have come at the sacrifice of a great many people. When I meet elected officials—regardless of political party--I thank them for their service to our country. When I meet a veteran or see a man or woman in uniform, I feel and typically express a deep and abiding gratitude for their service.

I love our country; I also love our world. I believe, and I think we should help our children to believe, that there are inalienable rights for all people everywhere. We enjoy many of those rights here in the United States, while people in other nations do not. It serves our country, our citizens, and our children to work toward a more just world in which human beings are unfettered from fear. As Dr. Martin Luther King put it so perfectly, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I will close with an experience I will never forget— one that brought globalism and patriotism together in an indelible and profound way for me. Before the winter holidays, I attended an open house at the Fugees Academy in Clarkston, Georgia. The academy is a unique tuition-free independent school where young adolescents, refugees from war-torn countries around the world, learn to become good students, good soccer players, good citizens, and good people. Most of these young people have witnessed atrocities that we cannot imagine. They have lived among war, poverty, and violence. They know personally what it is like to have their rights as humans denied. Relocated to the United States, these young men and women learn to navigate a strange society that is often skeptical and fearful of who they are. But they are strengthened by the love and support of each other, their teachers, and the belief that life will be more just and joyful here in the U.S.

At the conclusion of the open house, the students presented a wonderful concert of traditional American holiday songs. But before they sang of sleigh bells and snow, they led the audience in the most rousing, beautiful version of the Star-Spangled Banner I have ever heard. As the words “land of the free and the home of the brave” resounded throughout the room, I noticed that some of the students had tears in their eyes. I did too. Such is the power of being freely offered the rights you have been denied all your life by a country that is new and precious—and sometimes scary.

I wonder what the author of that email would have felt watching these young people—citizens of a world in search of human dignity—as they visibly expressed their gratitude for living in a nation that grants many critical rights in its own Constitution. I think he/she would have felt as proud and deeply moved as did every person in that room.

Now that's true patriotism.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What Does it Mean to be "Progressive" (at High Meadows)?

Progressive (adj.): favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are.

High Meadows is proud to call itself a "progressive" school. But what does that mean exactly? Progressive educators hold many beliefs in common, while there are others on which they disagree. One of my favorite pieces that seeks to define progressive education is Alfie Kohn's "Progressive Education: Why It's Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find," published in Independent School Magazine in 2008.

Kohn highlights the most common characteristics most progressive schools share, all of which can be observed at High Meadows on a daily basis:
  • Attending to the whole child
  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Social Justice
  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Deep Understanding
  • Active Learning
  • Taking Kids Seriously
Progressive schools choose to live these values in different ways. At High Meadows, one of the ways we build community is to have multi-age classooms; many progressive schools do not. We employ the IB Primary Years Program to engage students in deep understanding; other schools use similar "project-based" models. We demonstrate our belief in intrinsic motivation by not holding grades as a carrot at the end of a stick, while other progressive schools hand out grades freely (or use grade "proxies" like numbers and smiley faces).

Beyond the fact that High Meadows is progressive educationally, I also like to describe us as being progressive environmentally and socially. We guide children to understand that the natural world is connected to who we are, and that the active understanding of and care for that world is really caring for ourselves. We are socially progressive in that we value diversity and seek to live our diversity statement in meaningful and authentic ways. Most of our sister schools value these tenets deeply, but I think High Meadows demonstrates our commitment to them extraordinarily well.

I have written in the past (see the post below) that these angles of progressivism transcend politics; High Meadows is not a school that expects its families to be left wingers. We have a great diversity of political views at our school--from far left to far right and everything in between, which makes for wonderful discourse and opportunities for learning. As long as we all affirm our mission and guiding principles on behalf our children's education, that's what makes for a strong, vibrant, progressive community.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Process and Product Are Not Mutually Exclusive

"When one concentrates on engaging deeply in the learning process, the product generally reflects a high quality. Thus, neither process nor product are separate, but closely linked entities that feed each other."

                                                                --Pat Wolf, HMS Middle Years Director

Our advanced band at High Meadows is pretty extraordinary. Having heard many bands of different ages in my time, I can tell you confidently that ours, made up of fifth through eighth graders, sounds like an outstanding high school band. They were recently awarded across-the-board “superior” ratings—the highest possible--in the city-wide Large Group Performance Evaluation program.

But how did they get to be this good? Some kids are born with a natural sense of rhythm and tune, but many are not. They work hard to earn their excellence. In that process of hard work, they attend countless rehearsals, receive individual and group coaching, and engage in hours of independent practice. And they have fun. This process teaches them self-discipline, perseverance and humility. And they are rewarded by the joyful experience of working with their peers to create beautiful, soul-lifting music—a product that is superior.

Our theatre arts program is another example of how an intentional, child-focused process yields an outstanding product in which our performers feel great pride. Teacher Danielle Wright tells me that it’s a three-fold process that leads to a high-quality performance: having clear curricular objectives, encouraging problem-solving, and setting a path for success. And if you saw the multi-age play this weekend, you will understand that our actors and stagehands felt a deep satisfaction about the incredible production they presented. See below for Danielle Wright’s expanded thoughts on process and product in theatre arts.

Of course, many pursuits are heavily process-oriented, even after the product is “complete.” By the time you read this, I will have gone over it at least ten times and made changes both big and small. Once this piece is published, I will still go back and tinker with it. When we teach our students about the writing process, one important element they learn is that words on a page are living things. They can continue to improve upon their writing if they rework, rethink, and review. They learn that the best “finished” pieces are the ones that are invested with sweat-equity, that intentionality in each step of the writing process yields eloquent, beautiful essays and stories.

Progressive schools such as High Meadows continually reflect on the balance between process and product. Some believe that the journey is more important than the destination. We believe that a beautiful and successful journey allows for taking unplanned scenic routes and encourages stopping at interesting way stations. Such a journey makes the arrival at the destination all the more rewarding. 



Theatre Teacher Danielle Wright's take on process and product:

When it comes to process vs. product, theatre education will always be a conundrum. Here at High Meadows, we have two process-oriented teachers who focus on learning but still have an expectation of a quality production. It is challenging to say the least. It's taken some time to really formulate how we focus on process. We can narrow that down to three techniques:

Curriculum mapping: In our map, our content areas are Acting, Directing, Technical Theatre, Playwriting, and Theatre and Society. Most classes address at least one benchmark from each content area. The key is determining when we are simply exposing students to the concepts and when we expect them to master the concepts. That is where our vertical (across different grade levels) and horizontal (within the same grade level) alignment comes into play. It really dictates when we can just be the guide on the side and when we have to be more hands-on.

Encouraging problem-solving: Asking the right "what if" questions allows students to see why a specific idea might not work, but it also encourages them to find a solution and be happy with a Plan B. This works with acting, directing, playwriting--you name it! Find a kid who is a problem-solver and you've found a kid who's gained a dose of confidence and independence.

Setting a path for success: We are all about challenging our students at all levels and setting high and always visible expectations. The challenge for us as teachers is to find material and develop classes that are stimulating but still within reach of the appropriate grade level. If the program is too hard, students will feel like they failed, the end-result suffers and we lose the trust that we have worked so hard to develop. Once again, the vertical and horizontal curriculum comes into play. If we are exposing students to a certain concept, then we have to be ready to give hands-on support to ensure their success. If the expectation is mastery, then we are ready with the "how" and "why" questions that probe critical-thinking and creative problem-solving.

So the conundrum still exists--process vs. product. It always will in arts education. What a pleasure to work in a setting where the expectation of the end product is high because the students successfully rise to the challenge on so many levels!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Our Program is More Structured Than You Might Think

When I talk to people about High Meadows and our progressive model of teaching, I am typically met with one of three responses: 
  1. “Yes! I love and get progressive education! John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Alfie Kohn are my heroes!”
  2. “Hmm, interesting. Sounds different than the way I learned in school. Tell me more.”
  3. “Sounds like an unstructured, disorganized mess to me. I am picturing dancing hippies and kids running wild.”
OK, so those aren’t actual quotes, but that’s the spirit of what people say—or what I see in their eyes. Of course, I especially enjoy responding to #2. But the third one is almost as fun to address, because I get to disabuse people of such nutty notions.

Too many folks believe that “structure” is synonymous with “academic rigor,” since it implies order, predictability and compliance. In traditional schooling, those are virtues because they are what most of us experienced ourselves—and look how successful we are now! I’m being a bit cheeky, I know, but such a perspective is baffling to me. Times are changing. The world is asking for more of our kids than ever before. And if we do not attend to re-shaping the structure they experience in school, they will not be as well prepared to face the future’s uncertainty.

A High Meadows education is not unstructured in the least--it is differently structured. What looks like chaos and disorder to the untrained eye is often an exercise in collaboration and choice. Our teachers make specific, research-based plans that are aimed at giving kids exciting, meaningful experiences that often require movement and productive chatter. But there are always clear goals to each of their activities, whether they are about developing strong negotiation skills or learning to build consensus. Such skills are always at the top of the list of what employers are looking for in the next generation of employees; never will you see “sitting down,” “being quiet,” or “completing worksheets” on any job description.

I like to describe High Meadows as a school that does a superb job at balancing what psychologist Rob Evans calls the “three elements of a successful learning environment:” nurture, structure and latitude. Seeking a balance is what the best schools do; too much of any one element could be detrimental to a child's development. We know that High Meadows is exquisitely strong in the nurture category. We also do well with offering kids lots of latitude, both in the classroom and on the meadows. But we also do a great job offering that latitude within a clear structure. Systems like Positive Discipline, the IB PYP program, debate and band are all terrific examples of how well we balance nurture, structure and latitude.

So the next time you hear someone accuse High Meadows—or any progressive school—as being a free-for-all, have them talk to any one of our teachers or observe any one of our classes. I think they’ll get the picture pretty clearly.

An Elegy for Neil Gibson

This post is based on a letter I wrote last week about Neil Gibson's passing.

Last week, longtime High Meadows maintenance staff member Neil Gibson succumbed to the cancer that had taken hold of him over the last few months.

To say that Neil was an important part of the High Meadows community would be an understatement. For 19 years, Neil was a beloved institution at High Meadows. He was much more than a dedicated employee. He was a loving, creative presence who shared his gifts of poetry, photography, art and philosophy with everyone who knew him. Neil had a significant hand in building revered structures around our campus, including the woodworking castle off the lower meadow and the maintenance shed next to the caboose. His beautiful photos of High Meadows, all pine-framed lovingly and hand-colored meticulously, grace the walls of our campus. Many treasured trees were planted by Neil, none more beautiful than the loquat in Memaw's Garden, which bore fruit that Neil would turn into lovely preserves that he would give away to all who appreciated a good jam. Speaking of jam, Neil loved music. He never missed the opportunity to join his colleagues and friends in a good session of guitars, banjos and soulful vocals.

It's a cliché, I know, but Neil really did love life. And life loved him back, gracing him with two beautiful children, Luna and Jake, and his longtime friend and partner, Kelly, all of whom had been faithfully at his side as he came to terms with his illness and began to say good-bye to this life. Neil was a man blessed with great love.

Three weeks ago, more than fifty of us who knew Neil (including several folks from High Meadows' past) threw him a gratitude celebration next to the loquat tree. Though Neil was unable to join us physically, the magic of technology enabled us to "Skype" him in so he was able to experience the many fond stories and remembrances his friends shared about him. It was an extraordinary way for us to say thank you to Neil, and he was deeply touched by the tributes.

There is so much more to say about Neil, but I would like to yield to his own words which he wrote several years ago in a collection of his poetry called Inwood Eyes.

Oh, to be at sea again
To feel the surge of the great ocean.
Carry me off to far away lands;
I will respect you always.

Let me be like the sea
To be fluid and strong.
Let the salt bathe my body;
Let me be free.

Oh, to be at sea again,
Dealing with the elements,
And knowing God.
I can hear you calling me.

Neil MacDonald Gibson II, 1952-2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mr. Hendry Makes His Way Home

Elementary Teacher Ben Hendry emailed me last Wednesday morning as we were all reeling from the effects of "Snow Jam 2014." He shared with me a letter he had sent to family and friends--I thought it would be a good beginning to all of the stories of peril and heroism we will all share in the coming days.

Dear Friends,

I hope all of you were able to return home quickly and safely yesterday. I actually feel lucky that my typical 10 mile, 18 minute commute to Sandy Springs was "only" 7 hours. This includes parking in a neighborhood off Spalding Dr/Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd around 7pm, walking about one mile to my mom's house off Peachtree-Dunwoody to visit, eat, get warm, and borrow better mittens, walking a mile to the MARTA North Springs station, riding south one stop, and walking the final 1.7 miles home to arrive at 9:20. I imagine some readers are wondering if that description is setting up a word problem, such as "How far did Mr. Hendry walk?", or "What time did he leave school?" but I leave that up to you.

My trip included helping push a car up a hill then trading some passing teenagers $20 to help my car up the same hill. $5 would have been plenty for them, but $20 was worth it to me and was my first offer. Overall, I witnessed general cordiality and patience and was relieved that I did not see any really bad behavior. I know of neighbors who harbored stranded students from my local school or collaborated to bring multiple kids home; I believe these kinds of stories are the rule across the area. I've been very concerned about travelers' overnight safety; for example I have a colleague on the Support team who was still not home as of midnight. So I truly wish that all of you were spared the shocks of what I consider a disaster; this will echo for years.

Good luck,
Ben

Friday, January 17, 2014

Right or Wrong? A Kindergartner Reminds Me That There Are No Easy Answers

I goofed the other day at our K-8 community gathering. And I didn't even realize it until a teacher pointed it out to me. I'm sure glad she did, because then I had the chance to set things right.

I was launching into a short speech about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and why we celebrate his birthday. I began by asking the students where Dr. King was from. Several kids raised their hands immediately, and I chose an especially enthusiastic-looking kindergartner. "Africa!" she shouted confidently. Since that was not the answer I was looking for, I paused, some students began to titter, I got a little flustered, and I replied sheepishly, "Well, that's a good guess, but not exactly..." I quickly pointed to an older kid who said "Atlanta," the answer I was expecting. We moved on.

It wasn't until after the gathering that Mrs. Chalek came to the office to tell of a little girl who had felt terribly embarrassed by essentially being told by the head of school in front of hundreds of other children that she was "wrong." But hadn't she given the wrong answer after all? Upon fast reflection, I followed her logic. It is true, Dr. King's ancestors were from Africa. So, in a sense, Dr. King was from Africa along with being from the United States and Atlanta. My kindergarten friend did not give the wrong answer after all. Quite the contrary, she was actually demonstrating a level of thinking that I had not considered.

There are certainly questions that have right and wrong answers. But there are a great many questions that have multiple answers. Those are the kinds of questions we ask here at High Meadows, and we encourage our students to explore the answers that are possible--whether the question is "Where is Dr. King from?" or "How can we build a world that values human rights?"

After I admonished myself for my poor on-the-spot reaction ("A good guess?" "Not exactly??" What kind of an educator am I???), I went to Mrs. Chalek's room to seek forgiveness. I explained to the class what I had done, admitted that I felt badly about it, and I asked my kindergarten friend "Will you please forgive me?" "Yes," she replied with dignity. And then she hugged me. And my day was made, no question about it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

PS-8 vs. PS-12, Part Two

So many wonderful things happen to children between the ages of 3 and 14. They learn to make friends. They learn to read. They learn to question appropriately. They learn to analyze, criticize, and create. They learn what it means to be both a good leader and a good follower. And, most importantly, they learn to love learning and to joyously embrace the ephemeral stage of life called childhood.

Preschool through eighth grade schools are expert at fostering these experiences with deep sensitivity and care--High Meadows especially so. And there are many compelling reasons and significant research that support High Meadows' PS-8 model. Here are a few:

  • High schools compete for human and financial resources with the lower grades, and the lower grades are the ones who lose out. Being a PS-8 school ensures that the early, elementary and middle grades receive the resources they deserve.
  • As High Meadows is a small school with no plans to grow beyond 420 students, our students are known and loved by teachers of all grade levels and subject areas. They are truly raised by a village.
  • High Meadows students learn leadership from a young age. Our middle years students take leadership roles around the campus, from participating in student government to serving the community through our HELP organization. These experiences result in students gaining greater self-confidence and a sense of belonging to a close-knit community.
  • Without a high school on the same campus, our students are under less pressure to act older than their age. A high school culture dominates in a PS-12 setting, and that culture brings with it social and academic pressures that we do not want younger children to encounter. In other words, our PS-8 configuration helps us keep our children from growing up too fast. 
  • Our alumni tell us that the transition from High Meadows to high school is one for which they are extremely well prepared. And receiving high schools love High Meadows students; they know our graduates are intrinsically motivated people who take the reins of their own learning.
  • Alumni also tell us that they were ready at the end of eighth grade to make the transition to a new school. The early teen years are the ideal time to leave the elementary school nest--there are new friends to be made, new challenges to face. Scary as it can be (and as heartbreaking it is to leave High Meadows), alums are invariably glad they moved on to a new school after eighth grade.
  • Studies conducted by the Rand Corporation, the National Middle School Association and American College Testing (ACT) conclude that a PS-8 model enhances academic, social and emotional development more than any other configuration. The ACT study further supports that an outstanding eighth grade experience is a better predictor of future success than any high school experience.

A High Meadows student enjoys a rich academic and social journey. Our teachers care about--and respond expertly to--where each child is developmentally. As an Atlanta-area high school placement consultant told me recently, "High Meadows' PS-8 configuration is not a hindrance, it is a gift." I couldn't agree more.

With much thanks to the inspiration provided by the Elementary School Heads Association and the following schools: Blessed Sacrament Catholic School, Country School, Duke School, Green Hedges School, Seattle Country Day School and Sheridan School.