What will “full capacity” look like?

Five years ago we dreamed of a classroom with 36 students and three guides. The numbers were based on the wisdom of Maria Montessori and fueled by the dream that private school should be affordable to the general population. We also believed that students really can take charge of their own learning and the role of “teacher” can be transformed.

Since opening Acton’s doors, we have remained committed to grow slowly, very slowly. Slow growth meant that we have been able to maintain our focus while practicing the methodology. It was Jeff’s discipline from a business perspective that kept us on this slow growth plan.

At times, Kaylie, Anna and I wanted to jump ahead because of the deep excitement of having a full classroom; and because of our confidence that the entire experiment will work best at full capacity.

The plan for the fall is actually quite simple. We will have 7 more students who bring new opportunities for friendships and new ideas to explore. There is plenty of physical space in our current facility and we will break it down into small areas for smaller group times more often.

The overall methodology and daily schedule will remain the same. Students will begin the day in small group discussions, move to their core work time, engage in free time and lunch, and spend time in small groups and larger groups for project time. There will be Art and PE twice a week.

There are three key differences that this opportunity brings to your children:

1)      We have 15 middle school students who will enter the elementary classroom to guide and encourage students during core skills time. Jeff Sandefer is the master guide for the middle school. He and I will help students with this new endeavor. This will begin in November after the older students have learned how to be a guide and what true mentorship means. They will have a younger buddy who can look to them when they are “stuck” or when they need some motivation to move forward. Peer mentorship is a powerful force and we are excited to harness this for deeper learning by all. (See Ted talk noted below for more.)

For the middle school students, this commitment is just one hour per week. For the elementary students, there will be a continual flow of caring and helpful older Eagles to model. For us, it is the first time that we’ve had this unique and exciting opportunity available for our children!

Garrett Esposito describes his perspective of learning from peers: “I think it is valuable to learn from other kids instead of adults. A peer might have done something already and has done it more recently than an adult has. Kids have better memories and can help you more because they are more refreshed about what you are trying to do.”

2)      We have learned this year that it is important to break out the older students from the younger students more often.  The older students will have time for Socratic discussions, free time, and field trips on their own; the younger students will have time on their own as well. This breakdown by age groups will help ensure that the children’s different needs are met academically and socially. We will keep the overall integration of the classroom, however, because this provides such rich and immeasurable long-term learning opportunities for the older and the younger students even though it can be challenging.

3)      Kaylie and Aubrie will meet once a week with each child to check in on goals and personal needs that may exist. These touchstone meetings will fuel the child’s independent learning in a supportive environment. The students will have the opportunity to meet privately with Anna and me, as well, each week if they need help in project work or general group dynamics coaching. Our last stage of growth means we can now solidify this process that we have been experimenting with over the past three years.

Kaylie’s wisdom and experience along with the star-studded team of guides we have will make this final jump in growth one of the easiest we have experienced to date. In addition, we are ready to realize fully for the first time that peer instruction works and makes learning fun and deep.

Reflecting at this interesting moment in our history, the most challenging growth came this year when we doubled in size and moved location. Every piece of our plan (curriculum, physical environment, administration, staffing, outreach, finances) was pushed to the limit. We will never have that big of a jump again. And hopefully, never again have an operating crane next door.

While we paused and celebrated at a staff retreat during this last break, we also looked to the future and said, “Yes. This is the right thing to do for the world and for each child.”

We could not be more grateful or excited about what lies ahead with a full group of amazing Eagles. Thank you for embracing the journey with us.

Food for thought: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html

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