Our elementary program currently offers grades kindergarten through eight in multi-age classrooms. Our goal is to create the richest possible learning environment, by meeting the individual academic needs of each child while maximizing the social and academic benefits of collaborative work. In the course of a school week at Peregrine, students experience three types of learning environments. These environments are designed to maximize student learning and motivation in each subject area, based on current research about “best practices” in education. For a glimpse into what these environments look and feel like, please read the snapshots below.
Learning environment #1: Skills based learning in language arts and math
It is Monday-Thursday morning. Students enter the language arts classroom. One student gets his books and goes to the older classroom, since he reads at an advanced level and will do his language arts there. Another student finds his tutor, since his learning plan, designed with his parents and teacher, have determined that he needs special help. Another group of students find each other and begin a “literature circle”, a discussion group on the book they have been reading on Native Americans, the theme their class is studying in history, designated for their reading level. Another group begins to work with the teacher, who will work with each group on a rotating basis. In the course of the language arts week, all students will have opportunities to work at their own level in reading and writing, to be taught by and monitored by their teacher, and to interact with peers about their work. Little time is wasted because everyone is working at his or her own reading level, even if that means going outside the bounds of one classroom.
During math time, similar principles apply. Singapore Math is the main text, chosen because of its world-wide effectiveness at providing mathematical understanding for students. In addition, collaborative math projects are sometimes introduced, so that students can learn to talk about math and problem solve together. Many of these involve applied situations, such as making measurements to construct a vegetable garden.
Learning environment #2: Integrated thematic instruction through project based learning
This is the heart of the Peregrine program. Every afternoon and all day Fridays, students participate in thematic projects that integrate their grade level standards in science, social studies, applied language arts and math, and the arts. Marcia’s first through second grade classroom is engaged in the project of designing a water feature for their playground. Students work with physicist David Wittman to learn the principles of how water moves, applying Newton’s Laws of Motion, second grade science standards. They experiment with moving water through tubes, with stopping it up, with trying to see if water can go uphill. They then begin on their designs, working with another parent, an engineer who has agreed to build the project with them, and are told what kinds of materials might be used to build. Later, they discuss how they will get money for the project, and take a vote between various fundraising ideas. The teacher guides them through various democratic processes, which are not easy for first and second graders. It is their first time to vote. When a toy sale is decided upon, the children organize it: they write notes to ask other members of the school community for donations, set up the sale, and collect and count the money. This is only the beginning. Soon they are off to the hardware store to price materials, and begin to work toward a building day.
Meanwhile, third and fourth graders are constructing and sharing a museum about California Native American life, and fifth through seventh graders are studying early man, turning their classroom into a “cave” of dyed paper shapes, covered with cave paintings made from pigmented rocks and charcoal they found. Through these experiences, as well as field trips, research reports, discussion, and more, the subjects they study come to life. Various disciplines bear on one theme, as occurs when problems are solved in real life.
Project based learning has many aspects. Students begin by gathering background knowledge on a theme through reading, discussion, photographs and videos, internet research, and field trips or simulated experiences. They then decide on a topic that they want to study in more depth, as a group or individually, and begin their research projects. Finally, what they have learned is shared with others through reports, student-made museums, plays, self-published books, and more. In some cases, something concrete, such as a garden or a water feature in the playground, is created as a result of the studies. In other cases, a community service, such as cleaning up a creek, is performed.
Learning environment #3: Arts, Spanish and science with experts in residence
On Friday mornings, students of all ages gather in the music/dance room to sing with Teacher Laura, a local professional musician and chorus director. Everyone stands in a circle and begins to sing a variety of folk songs and original songs by Laura, to the accompaniment of her guitar. Some songs are in parts, others involve motions that teach the musical scale. The mood is festive, and teachers join in too. Students sway to the music.
In contrast, yoga class is quiet. Lights are dimmed and students are each on a sticky mat, breathing and waiting for the next position to be explained. Jenny, the professional yoga teacher, leads the class and creates the mood of mindfulness.
Time with each specialist or each art form is a unique experience, carrying with it a mood of exuberance or calm, thoughtfulness, concentration… During each week, students experience dance, yoga, chorus, and instrumental music, each taught by a different expert for thirty minutes each. In addition, students experience Spanish throughout the week, again taught by an expert who is from Mallorca, Spain.
Also special to Peregrine School are our scientists in residence, parent-scientists who teach their expertise to the students once a week. This year, we have a physicist and a biologist.
The following sample daily schedules show how these three modes of learning fit together during the school week.
Monday-Thursday daily schedule:
7:00 optional daycare
8:30 supervised free-play hour (included in tuition fees)
9:00 classroom meetings: introduce the day
9:30 math in small groups organized by individual skill levels
10:15 outside play/snack
11:00 language arts in small groups organized by individual skill levels
12:15 outside play followed by family style hot lunch, prepared by our chef
1:00 project based learning integrating all subjects, focused around science and social studies themes or Spanish and arts lessons taught by experts
3-6pm optional daycare/optional after-school classes
Many Fridays are field trips. Small classes enable frequent field trips to natural sites, cultural sites, museums, and performing arts events. Fridays at school are as follows:
7:00 optional daycare
8:30 supervised free play
9:00 chorus with Teacher Laura
9:45 thematic projects
10:15 outside play/snack
11:00 thematic projects
12:15 outside play/lunch
1:00 thematic projects
2:00 instrumental music with Teacher Marque
3-6 PM optional daycare/optional after school classes
Other special features of Peregrine School
Developing social skills and a positive school community: Teachers and students all use the “cool tools” approach invented at the UCLA Lab School in order to promote positive social relationships and character development. This program works on the assumption that students behave poorly because they are still learning social skills, just as they make mistakes at math because they are still learning math skills. The focus on the program is to learn pro-social behaviors that help students and adults alike to feel comfortable in their social environment.
Teaching a healthful way of life: Learning positive habits related to food, exercise, mindfulness, and one’s environment is part of the program at Peregrine School. The school employs a chef who prepares nutritious, generally local and organic hot lunches and nutritious snacks. Students eat family style with teachers, and learn to clean up, recycle, and compost their waste. Gardening and cooking are also parts of the program. In addition, students have over an hour a day to be active, in addition to class time spent on yoga and dance.