upgrading-elephant-66One of the hallmarks of our school is the manner in which our children create, develop, and maintain connections to their learning, their peers, their teachers, and the broader world.  Relationships are key to learning.  Our children are known.  They participate in the life of our city – its people and its places – as a way of embedding personal relevance and a sense of community responsibility.  We interact with local theater groups, dance studios, community organizations, local authors, and other experts.  We develop partnerships that include opportunities for our children in stewardship and service. Those relationships and resources fuel investigation and create support and encouragement, essential for growing minds.  We shape shadow positions and mentorships, opportunities to define and solve problems, and forums for sharing thoughtful voices about those things that concern and inspire us most.  This effort bonds children to adults in the community and opens doors locally they may not know yet exist. A capstone on a Renaissance education is the Elder Project, a multi-dimensional study that draws together multiple disciplines to explore and express aspects of a broad-based question in an attempt to uncover new learning.


Smaller Circles Within The Community

Our goal is to personalize each child’s education, to challenge each child as an individual at the edge of abilities and interest areas.  The faculty members strive to create balanced academic classes for morning studies in literacy and numeracy.  In the afternoon, children are assigned to classes based on age and to exploratory classes based on interest.  Each child has a walking buddy (olders with youngers) and each child is a member of a family-style clan that performs school-wide services and acts as a conduit for school-wide connections.  The entire school comes together for morning meeting, snack, read-aloud, lunch, and noontime recess.  Children are encouraged to participate fully in each of these groupings.  Sharing across the school and in small groups, with the support of others, has resulted in spontaneous declarations of inspiration: “I was inspired by __ to make this ____ at home.”

Emotional-Social Development of Children:
A quick snapshot of a much fuller Renaissance Community Forum agenda (2016)

How do we describe our work with children as they bump up against childhood lessons in the social and emotional domains? Our children’s healthy mental outlook, choices, and interactions are the very heart of our mission, whether we are working with a literacy lesson or a design studio. Attention to each child is possible because each teacher is able to really know ten to twelve children, and our faculty use non-teaching time to think together, sharing ideas, insights, and information about children who puzzle us. This is the gift of being a small, intimate community.

The distilled question may be: Does, or will, the school adhere to a specific curriculum in this area? The short answer is: No.

Our school thinking is porous, but not unformed. For most of our faculty, psychology, special education, and community-building are focuses of graduate and certification programs, drawing strength from our collaboration as a whole. We have spent hours together in making the decision to work under a specific “North Star” and Renaissance teacher time is truly spent thinking about the children. Just as we have not adopted other curriculum packages, we do not relegate this critical area of our work —becoming our best human selves— to a specific discipline or counseling program, worksheets, or boxes. We think deeply about this… and of course, in our work, we may make human mistakes along the way as we strive to understand another growing human being, or in mediating the space among many. We draw inspiration from several schools of thought: age-appropriate and engaging learning experiences, shared power, logical and natural consequences, minimizing extrinsic rewards, and high expectations accompanied by supportive scaffolding. We believe in conversations, follow-through, mis-steps as opportunities for growth, mediation, empowerment, and holding children accountable. We believe there is no one single approach; each child has a unique set of challenges and supports. Do we run into a snag once in a awhile? Of course. And no curriculum will solve that. It takes time, sincere attention, and sometimes multiple attempts, followed by external interventions, to help untangle some knots. Sincere conversations and mindful action are not scripted. Homogenization is not part of our mind-scape…

So what is the backbone of a “ship” that sails in such waters? Taking responsibility, having “clear eyes,” examining intended and unintended consequences, righting wrongs, and self-advocacy are keys. Our “vision” for our youngsters is found in the Edge qualities. Our children and faculty address those aspirations every year, at each level, throughout the year, using them to set personal goals, as focused class discussions, and in reflection. You will find a concise version of these ideals in the Learner Profile twice a year, in the school-wide checklists titled “Community Member” and “Learner,” and in the narratives written by the child and welcome teacher. There is also a more descriptive section of our aspirations in “The Edge” on our website.