Saturday, September 30, 2006

Hands-on/Hearts-Engaged at the Clear Spring School

The greatest problems in modern education can be summarized in the 3 D-s… Disengagement, disinterest and disruption. Schools often fail to engage children's innate capacities for learning. In worst cases, students become disruptive of the educational interests and needs of others. At a very early age, children are instructed, "don't touch!" "Keep your hands to yourself!” But the hands and brain comprise an integrated learning/creating system that must be engaged in order to secure the passions and "heart" of our youth. When the passions are engaged and supportive systems (teachers, community resources, technology etc) are in place, students will find no mountain is too high, and no concept too complex to withstand the assault of their sustained interest and attention. There is a rich but near forgotten tradition in America of seeing the integration of head, heart, and hand being essential to the health of the individual and society. The hands-on/hearts-engaged educational strategy at the Clear Spring School is designed to reinforce learning confidence and to enhance a sense of community and social responsibility.

Beginning with pre-primary and extending through high school, Clear Spring School students participate in a multifaceted curriculum that blends reflection and expression, theory and application of ideas derived from direct observation and experimentation, individuality and community responsibility. Instead of re-enforcing the commands “hands-off” and “keep your hands to yourself,” we invite intelligent investigation, cooperative thinking, and creative, useful activity.

Specific programs, depending on grade level, include outdoor education, camping, woodworking, travel school, service learning, mentoring, internships, and interdisciplinary studies.

Outdoor and Environmental Education grades Pre-K though 12
It is essential that our students gain an appreciation for our natural environment, and develop a sense of stewardship and responsibility. Our program of outdoor studies, recycling, camping, and woodworking are all designed to create a greater sense of appreciation and respect for the wonders of our small planet. In addition, all Clear Spring students are actively engaged in recycling and our annual Trash-a-thon Fundraiser.

Camping grades 1 through 6
Our fall and spring camping trips are an adventure in cooperative planning, united effort, group welfare, and outdoor activities. Math, reading, writing, science, cooperative games, outdoor drama local folklore, history, cultural and natural studies are all brought into play.

Woodworking grades 1 through 12
Our nationally recognized woodworking program, the Wisdom of the Hands, is based on an understanding of the importance of the hand/brain learning system that is genetically encoded in each human being. The program is a point of curriculum convergence, where the hands become involved in the studies of math, science, history, design and literature and though which the lessons and experiences from other studies can be directly applied. In addition, as one parent observed, the woodshop is a place the children learn about themselves.

Travel School grades 3 through 12
Through the travel school program, students synthesize learning themes across the curriculum. For example: a week’s journey to the Deep South brings to life through direct experience antebellum architecture, music history, the homes and times of southern writers, US history, economics, as well as native flora, fauna and wildlife. Students complete daily journal assignments, a process which integrates and preserves a record of their observations and experiences. Travel school has been noted to build close, cooperative personal relationships between students, and between students, faculty and volunteer parent chaperones.

Service Learning grades 1 through 12
Service learning takes students into the community to explore real-life community issues and concerns, fostering in the student a sense of greater responsibility and sensitivity. Specific service learning activities include an annual Trash-a-thon (litter pick-up), and recent examples include construction and delivery of walking canes for the elderly, and raising money for hurricane relief. Clear Spring high school students are required to complete 20 hours annually of community service, volunteering with a local organization of their choice. Like internships, service learning encourages students to participate in the life of the local community and lifts the principles of citizenship and civic responsibility off the page and into action.

Student Mentoring grades 7 through 12
Students in the upper grade levels take responsibility as mentors for younger students. These formal and informal interactions are mutually beneficial. Older students learn the value of sharing their time and talents; younger students enjoy the 1:1 attention. We have observed that all students leave these sessions with an air of confidence and satisfaction with themselves.

Learning Through Internships (LTI) grades10 through 12
LTI carries the learning experience beyond the classroom to encompass specialized training and exploratory learning via educational community partnerships, direct on-the-job experiences, group projects, overseen and supervised by daily consultation with school advisors. Students delve into areas of personal interest, explore career possibilities, and establish professional role models. Advisors, students, and internship supervisors develop learning plans to fulfill five areas of requirement: communication, empirical reasoning, personal qualities, quantitative reasoning, and social reasoning.

Integrated Studies all grades
We know that the artificial boundaries constructed between various disciplines create an environment lacking in credibility and creativity. In fact, at the Clear Spring School, we recognize that thinking outside the box involves first and foremost, the ability to interact with information and experience through a multi-disciplinary perspective. We look for every opportunity to explore the boundaries between disciplines for connections that enhance the learning experience.

Block Scheduling
We know that the extremely short time alotted to the exploration of various subjects encourages shallow efforts rather than deep exploration. At the Clear Spring middle school and high school, block scheduling allows greater opportunities for interdisciplinary and multisensory learning experiences and creates greater opportunity for our students to make use of our other hands-on, hearts-engaged program activities.

Most important, the hands-on/hearts-engaged educational strategy is one that has eliminated the 3 D-s from education. Our students and staff at Clear Spring School are 3 E-s...engaged, enthusiastic and eager to learn.

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