1. Learning is more effective when it is fun.
Children who are captivated by a body of knowledge will find its assimilation stimulating and will rise to the challenge of its acquisition.
In traditional methods of presenting content and skills, we envision the teacher in a central role as transmitter of facts, skills and processes to the students. In turn the students are expected to “parrot” or reproduce this information. The problem here is that the child has virtually no input in the building of this “pre-constructed landscape”. The child’s recognition of her/his diminished role in the learning process creates a passive learner devoid of enthusiasm and consequently with a lesser attention span.
On the other hand, when the same material is presented with methods which engage both the student’s mind and senses, more sustained learning will occur. An arena is created where the child has a voice in the construction of new ideas and her/his background and prior knowledge are validated. The teacher now assumes the role of facilitator as the students promote their own development of knowledge relevant to them and to their physical and social environment.
At Escuela Lomas Altas, the classrooms are hives of activity where students work and learn with and from each other alongside the teacher. They learn by doing, actively engaged in making and building on meaning through collaborating, sharing, investigating and analyzing. Often guided activities will evolve into student-initiated ones as the children become more “caught up” in the process.
An overriding comment of those who visit our classrooms is, “They’re all having so much fun!” The fact that learning is taking place is evident. Often these same visitors are heard to bemoan, “Why wasn’t it like this when I was in school?”
|2. A highly-personalized, individualized approach will reap great educational rewards.|
The commitment to this principle is amply evidenced by the simple fact that we have refused to expand, despite outside pressures to do so. We feel that bigger is not better because it only stands to reason that the larger the institution the more impersonal it becomes. Since the children under our care are in preschool and elementary, their most formative years, the all-important focus of individualization cannot be overemphasized. We refuse to compromise on this ideal and truly believe it’s the factor which most distinguishes us from other schools.
While student numbers remain stable at each group level, the quantity of trained educators continues to increase. This is the only way that a bilingual school can truly contend it is meeting the needs of all of its learners. Currently the most striking example of this is our individualized reading program where the children work individually with reading specialists at least three times a week. Each student’s progress in the myriad reading skills is closely monitored in both English and Spanish. Techniques are employed based on the most recent research for second (or additional) language learners while native speakers are encouraged to choose their own books which will both interest and challenge them. The reading specialist works closely with the classroom teacher so that skills can be reinforced, and, in order to provide more fun, the children can share the books they loved with their classmates. From this we can form reading circles where a small group is all reading the same book creating the possibility of seemingly endless interactive and dynamic activities. The message that reading is fun rings loud and clear and, with its siren song, lures even the most reluctant reader.
From Kinder I until first grade the students also receive the personalized attention of a handwriting specialist who works either individually or in small groups with the children. Educators from other schools have marveled when they see Kinder I students sitting using the correct posture, manipulating their pencils confidently and producing cursive writing which is both neat and legible.
Teachers’ aides are assigned at every level and their contribution to the educational environment is invaluable. They are competent, flexible and demonstrate true affection for the children. Whether enabling group projects or working individually with students who are either below their level in certain skills or those who require extension activities to keep them challenged, they provide an essential link in the network of individualization.
Many schools boast a family-like atmosphere, but few can do it with as much self-assurance as Escuela Lomas Altas. Ideals, attitudes and values have to be modeled, not just talked about. The continuous presence, participation and enthusiasm of Miss Jackie from the morning lineup bell to the afternoon dismissal underscore the message of her educators to each and every one of our students. “You are valued, respected and an integral part of our extended family.”
|3. A strong home-school connection needs to be established and nurtured for the overall well-being of the child in all aspects of her/his development.|
This belief goes hand-in-hand with our school-wide policy of individualized education. Parental involvement is not only essential but also enriching to the child’s learning atmosphere and experiences. We realize the challenge this represents in today’s world where sometimes both parents work and demands on time and energy have to be balanced in ever-increasingly more complex ways. We, as a school, try to compensate for this by attempting to be as flexible and innovative as we can to assure that parents experience their integral role in their child’s educational development. Fortnightly self-assessments are sent home for the parents to sign and, hopefully, add any comments or observations. When specific concerns arise, either on the part of the parents, the teachers, the school psychologist or the principal, a meeting is immediately scheduled to address them. These meetings, in which the teachers, principal (and sometimes the student) are present, are solution-oriented. Here strategies are formulated and the follow-through that is mapped out requires commitment from all involved. This forum, allowing us to sit down, talk face-to-face, voice our concerns and negotiate positive outcomes, has produced extremely effective results.
We love to have parents come in as guest speakers to share their expertise in a particular Unit of Inquiry or simply come and read with the children thus sharing our culture of reading. The child will always have an individual reading book both in Spanish and English and, while our insistence that parents read with their children may seem burdensome (or meddlesome?), research is on our side and the benefits are noticeable almost immediately in the child’s confidence and fluency. We try to promote school-home connections through homework activities and research projects which involve parents. The quantity of didactic materials that have poured in from parents to enrich our Units of Inquiry is astonishing and inspiring to all of us involved in the children’s learning experiences. What a valuable resource and rewarding experience for all when parents become actively involved!