@ The Center for Arts and Learning
46 Barre Street
Montpelier, VT 05602
Over and over, educational research tells us that we cannot teach the content our children will need to know when they enter the larger world as adults; our world is changing so rapidly, we do not know what our children will need to know. The best skills we can give them are critical and analytical thinking, the ability to identify relevant questions, the ability to "think outside the box" and problem-solve creatively, and the ability to find and use resources effectively. These skills require independence, self-confidence, good communication, and resourcefulness. These are qualities and skills we value deeply at River Rock School. These are qualities and skills we teach and model, whether trouble-shooting a broken scooter, helping to resolve an interpersonal conflict, or assisting with the development of questions for research and an interview. Our small student-teacher ratio (11:1), and opportunities to team-teach, provide the necessary contexts to effectively teach a diverse student population and foster the development of active, interested, effective citizens.
It is in keeping with River Rock's approach to education that academic "subjects" are rarely isolated from a larger context. For example, a morning whole-group meeting included a discussion about the democratic process and the voting system in the U.S., and led to the creation of a "mock election." This then led to research, discussion, and writing about political figures and other political systems. Local political candidates from both parties were invited to visit and share their knowledge and views, and be interviewed. In this way, Social Studies and Civics become a vibrant relevant part of life.
The 2008 presidential election, and the concurrent celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday, inspired Civil Rights studies—study of key historical figures, literature, music, and political events. This then became the motivation behind creating a public event: an Evening of Songs and Stories to honor Martin Luther King and celebrate the election of Barack Obama, held in a Montpelier church. Fifteen speakers and musicians, most of whom were active in the Civil Rights movement, shared stories and songs to a packed hall. Four River Rock students read poems they had written, and all present participated in the now familiar songs. The space was adorned with artwork and banners created by River Rock students. History, Culture, Politics, Art, and Literature were all studied.
Field Trips and Visitors often inspire this kind of rich process of learning. Science is infused with tangible life by a visit from a local geologist and a field trip to Nichol's Pond, where a damn had broken and rocks and fossils were revealed on the drained pond bed. History, Culture, Engineering, and alternative Philosophies were enhanced by a visit from Ivan MacBeth with a follow-up field trip to his Standing Stone installation underway in Burlington. Art, Mechanics, Interview Skills, Economics, Writing, and Exercise were explored via a series of bicycle trips to town to study the construction, equipment, and people involved with the replacement of the Langdon Street bridge—followed by the creation of extensive documentation.
Not every day is infused with visitors and field trips.
When we move through the day on a more conventional schedule, however, we approach learning similarly. Science involves hands-on experiments in our kitchen, augmented by research, and often with collaboration between the younger group (called East and West) and the older group (North and South). These collaborations enhance skills, self-confidence, and relationship building.
At other times, the two groups gather separately. East and West may be learning Sign Language, while members of North and South are learning Greek or French. Our Math specialist may work with the varied levels of the North and South group, while Shawnee uses manipulatives and other approaches with East and West. Children of both groups self-select writing themes and readers, as well as literature for further reading. Within these groups teachers are creative in their approaches to all study areas and are able to address the unique development, learning style, and needs of each student by having small and large group studies, as well as one-to-one time with individual students.
Author Share is a regular and important time at River Rock. Children from both groups read their writing out loud to one another and get feedback. This activity extends far beyond reading and writing skills; children learn about creative, sensitive and constructive communication skills, creative collaboration, and gain inspiration from peers.
Learning and teaching at River Rock School takes many forms and approaches and evolves as our community grows and learns.