Ten years ago Peregrine School was a dream just coming into focus, born of long walks with my daughter Elena, as we thought of the kind of education we would like to create for her children. This dream then spread to a playgroup of parents, such as Kim Longworth, who joined in the vision and of our first group of children, who have just graduated from the sixth grade after spending nine years in Peregrine. Soon Su-Fei arrived as a chef to help start our food program, and we were on our way.
What began as a very personal dream has now become a public shared reality.
This weekend, Peregrine had its first board retreat. Sixteen board members and parent representatives gathered to begin a process which we will carry on in our whole community this year: a process of planning what we want for our school for the next five to ten years.
Looking back, it is wondrous to see how far we have come, and how many people have given tireless thought and energy into getting us here. Many thanks to them all. As a non-profit independent school, everything including funding has come from parents and volunteers, as well as our wonderful staff of teachers who are the heart of the program day to day, and our tireless admin staff, which solves a myriad of problems every day.
In our first year we were a single classroom on the west site, the first escuelita class. Fabiola Vidrio, our current west primaria teacher, was our first hired employee, and Gabriela Cortez was soon to follow. At that time we felt that the west site was so large that we would not fill it! We could not have imagined that we eventually would have two sites, although creating an elementary school was always central to the dream. The west site, with its now beautifully developed environments, remains at the heart of our vision.
This will be our third year at the south site. The potential of this large space is just becoming real to us. With the new Chinese Immersion class (Pandas), we have filled the preschool to capacity (90) this year. The elementary school has also grown to about 60 students, and will be at capacity when it hits 80. Every inch of our building is now in use! At least as importantly to our SOAR vision, this site has an acre of land. With our students, we are attempting to “green” and to “wild” this site as quickly as possible, to make outdoor classrooms and play spaces for our students.
In this tenth year, it is essential that we look deeply at our vision. What ties together our many programs? What is their shared goal?
Both Reggio Emilia and Project Based learning are parts of a much larger tradition, which is called “progressive education.” In the United States, John Dewey is the philosopher behind this tradition, and we still read him to look for inspiration.
The central tenet of this educational movement is that the child is the agent in his/her own education. This is different, in fact opposite, from the traditional educational approach which focuses on a body of knowledge which must be transmitted. In traditional education, the student is an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge. In the “progressive” tradition, in contrast, the child is seen as a very active player with existing ideas and understandings. Our goal is to engage a group of children, through when play they are young, and later through provocative experiences. Experience is at the heard of education, but what kind of experience, Dewey challenges us to ask, is most educative?
Progressive schools are constantly evolving, just like the students within them. At this tenth year, I perceive our community of teachers, staff, and families as involved in a deepening inquiry about how to enrich our learning community. Our teachers are life-long learners, exploring constantly how to do things better. Last year we created SOAR: Science, outdoor education, arts, and responsibility, as a unique combination of activities that define Peregrine School. This year we are exploring more deeply how we teach each in of these areas.
If traditional schools measure information learned, using tests, how do we measure our progress as a learning community?
First, we look at our intentions.
A key intention is engagement. Our goal is to provide provocations, in the form of age and interest appropriate arrangements of toys, inviting art materials, or rich environments which cause children to engage in meaningful ways. Our teachers build on this engagement through inquiry questions and creative reactions to children’s dialogues, so that a teachable moment can be transformed into a sustained, meaningful play experience or inquiry. This is as true for a sixth grader as for a toddler, although expectations increase with time.
How do we know what our expectations should be? Accountability is a buzz word in education. Are students meeting expectations? How do we know? For young students, we look at the overlap between spontaneous play and developmental standards. If we want a child to learn to hop, we might put out a provocation of something to hop over, or play “hopping” music, then watch if a milestone is met. This is what portfolios are about. We measure progress against accepted norms. Documentation is a central part of our program. We keep track of how individual children develop, and also assess constantly whether our provocations are creating the learning we desire.
In primaria and elementary school, we transition from assessing developmental standards into measuring the connection between the challenges we provide and important skills and knowledge in academic disciplines. Are students challenged to behave like scientists, asking questions and doing experiments, and are their results recorded with increasing rigor as they get older? The crux of progressive education lies in making the connection between experiences meaningful to a child and disciplinary goals which lead to further, more advanced learning. Finding challenges and teaching methods which meet students’ levels and interests and which motivate further learning is a never-ending quest, which requires life-long learning on the part of the teacher. There is no one right answer about how to do this, and the answer which works with one child or one class might not work with the next. This means that teachers are also researchers, constantly problem solving and reflecting about best practices.
In Reggio schools, people speak of the environment as a teacher. Our classrooms are rich environments, constantly curated to provide interesting provocations to our students. Also, our gardens are major learning sites. We are committed to the continuous development of our gardens and cultivated wild areas as places for play and learning.
Place based, outdoor education is a focus at Peregrine School for us for at least two reasons. First, Davis is a science and environmentally oriented city, and Reggio’s goal is to teach children in the context of their own community. Second, there is increasing awareness world-wide, spearheaded by the forest schools of Scandinavia, that children learn many things outside that they cannot learn inside, and are healthier and happier for it.
We hope that everyone in our community will take time to walk through our environments at both sites every so often to see how they are developing, and will participate in helping with projects that enhance our outdoor environment for both play and structured learning.
As we enter this tenth year, please join with us in thinking about and sharing what you want to see in a school for your child and for our community. What began as a mother-daughter musing about a good school for our own family has now become a shared reality for a whole community. Peregrine is a place where people of all ages can work together to create a wonderful space for our children and for ourselves as lifelong learners. Please join in envisioning possibilities and in participating actively in the growth of this exciting place.