Can you believe it's already been a month? What an exciting start to the new school year! Hopefully you’ve noticed our fresh coats of paint both inside and out. Since the end of the school year in 2018, we've been cleaning, organizing, staining and building; and there is more on the way. We've been writing our own curriculum, strengthening our teaching philosophy and creating new protocols and school routines. This year is shaping up to be everything we've dreamed of. I am so pleased to see our evolution and it sure feels like we are moving forward faster than anticipated.
The biggest changes have been to the curriculum, we’ve enhanced our class hours to match MEP requirements while making sure we meet our own ECO standards as well. This means more cross curricular and project based initiatives while keeping a stable program for students coming from and returning to North America.
Our curriculum is based on a three year cycle in which students: are introduced to concepts, enhance their skills, and demonstrate sound understanding of each topic. Our trimester themes stabilize our curriculum so that subjects work together throughout the year. We added overarching themes and project goals for the year which gives the school it’s academic integrity. I particularly enjoyed working alongside Jennifer Kraften to create this. She is a seasoned and award winning teacher from Atlanta, Georgia. She and I printed, read, and cut up pages of information and ideas. We built a system that would solidify who we are as a school and what makes us different. Once all the pages of standards were in place, spread across our newly varnished desks, we were terrified that someone would sneeze or turn on a fan. We then typed all of these clippings into one document! This is now the foundation of what we teach. It’s a clear jumping-off point into a new body of water - a new territory we are ready to explore and develop throughout the coming years.
We eliminated school grade levels while still holding on to the key information which will allow us the ability to let parents know exactly where their child stands on any international academic standard. Students now fall into three categories: Explorers, Architects and Innovators. Following the three year cycle, within these groups are Juniors, Seniors and Masters of the curriculum.
Week one with the students we focused primarily on team building games so that teachers could take students aside for one-on-one assessments. What we found was fascinating! Our students are from countries both north and south of us, yet they had all developed with incredibly different abilities. With this information students were placed exactly where they needed to be in each subject. This year, language classes are not divided by grade however, native speakers and students learning a second or third language are placed in groups that are best suited for them. In science and math, students work in groups that match their cognitive ability.
ECO classes are off to a great start! From gathering seeds to hanging hammocks, the students are already noticing the details needed to tend the garden.
The Explorers have been busy identifying and classifying seeds of different plants. They particularly enjoy finding centipedes to feed Ms. Turtle, and are keeping our plants well watered! Teacher Joshua works with the students to integrate curriculum into the outdoor classroom. Lessons and activities have included alphabet games, Spanish vocabulary, sorting by shape and color, identifying living and non-living things, and of course enhancing fine motor skill. The garden provides lots of activities for little fingers and growing bodies.
The Architects have already finished their first build! Following our trimester theme, Build & Create, the team was given the challenge to create a space on campus for everyone to use and enjoy. As a group, we decided to make a hammock area for up to five people to use and relax in during recess. We first searched for the best area to hang our hammocks. We then measured the distances between the trees and the lengths of the hammocks. A challenge presented itself. We would need two posts between three of the trees and thus a project plan was created. Students wrote and drew their plans in their ECO journals. Diagrams included materials, anchors and other clever ideas. Once finished, a list of rules was created about how to best care for the hammocks. Now, the area is one of the most prized locations on campus.
The Innovators are developing their own projects. Each project started by making a list of tools and building materials we have available. We began with lessons about how to use tools safely. Now using these tools, students are working on ideas such as assembling soccer goals for recess, creating a better irrigation system, constructing a shaded study area, and building a bat box.
As we continue our journey of experiential learning in the garden classroom, we will focus the 2019 Grades of Green Waste Management Challenge! This challenge will last the entire month of March. We have chosen to focus on the yard waste that is so fervently burned rather than composted in our neighborhood. The students will be using different methods to measure and quantify yard debris and will be working with our local community to formulate conclusions about the problems of burning waste. Some ideas already discussed have been to create contracts that community members can sign, create an easy-to-assemble composting garden bed, and showing the effects that burning has to the air quality of Coco.
In other news, Kid club is scheduled to start in March, which is full of extracurricular activities for students from NdS and our entire Coco community. I am so pleased to be welcoming new teachers, new students and new energy to NdS. Welcome all! Get ready for lots more exciting news.