Friday, October 1, 2010

Learning Out of the Box

Education has been in the news this week with the release tonight of the new documentary, Waiting For Superman by director Davis Guggenheim. The film has prompted discussion about education reform, and about the qualities of great schools.

As I have listened to the debate this week about how to reform our country’s education system and about how to prepare our nation’s children for the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century, I was encouraged by the passion I saw for our nation’s youth, and for providing them with exceptional educational experiences. But I was also concerned when I heard simplistic solutions to complex problems, solutions that typically regarded education as an assembly line in which the same formula is best for all students in all situations. Seabury exists because not all students learn and grow in the same way, and because equal access to appropriate education does not mean doing the same thing for all children all the time. It is recognizing and building on the unique strengths of each child, and using the child’s strengths to address areas for growth. It is building skills for life and for solving the complex problems and unique challenges our children will face in their work and their world.

Education, as we understand it at Seabury, is more than a list of skills to master or a series of tests to pass. While skill development provides an important foundation, it is only the beginning. Education is grounded in rich experiences, is rigorous and relevant, and explores ideas deeply and from a variety of perspectives.
This week has provided great examples of the rich quality of the educational experience at Seabury. Seabury’s middle school students have been on a four day field study experience in Vancouver, B.C. as part of their study of “Perspectives” this year. They visited a Buddhist center, met with an imam, took a tai chi class, attended a physics day at a local amusement park, and explored the international flavor of our neighbor to the north. Seabury’s Explorers class has been at Olympic Park Institute (OPI) this week, participating in a three day science field study experience in OPIs beautiful location on Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. The Sharks and Beacons classes have initiated a “Team Seabury” for Sunday’s Pierce County Hunger Walk to raise money for the Emergency Food Network, and lower school children have initiated a Seabury Service Club to organize participation in global and local service projects. Our Superstars and Bear Cubs have taken field trips in the neighborhood and to a local environmental center to observe the natural environment and to see signs of fall approaching. And Seabury’s Navigators students initiated publication of a school newspaper, which hit classroom “newsstands” today, and included stories about students’ favorite books and a profile of Seabury’s business manager, Janice Spika.

These experiences have not only provided students opportunities to develop specific academic skills, but have gone far beyond, immersing students in relevant, engaging experiences prompting deep discussions, thoughtful questions, problem solving opportunities, social skills development, and much more. The lessons learned go beyond what can be taught through a worksheet or measured on a “bubble sheet” test. They are life experiences that will shape our children’s future learning and growth.

Talk to your child about what they learned this week. Listen not only for the answers they have learned, but to the questions and discoveries their experiences have prompted them to contemplate. Ask them about successes and challenges in the classroom, on the playground and beyond the school. Learning is complex and watching our students grow, not only in specific skills but as thinkers, problem solvers, and members of the community is the greatest joy of our lives as educators. Thank you for joining us on the journey!

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