Every child has a purpose and has the right and responsibility to achieve it.
Last week in garden class, fourth graders Simon and Michael asked if we could make an insect collection in the spring, like they had done with their science Teacher, Carol Fonseca, three years ago, in the first grade. That was the year we established the Native Garden with a generous grant from US Fish and Wildlife Services. As part of the grant application, we (staff and students) surveyed the number of insect species present at the school.
I told Simon and Michael that making an insect collection would be a great offshoot of our pollinator study, which we are doing this year as with Citizen Science through UC Davis. They were excited; I know they will keep reminding me until we do it, because these fourth graders already know what they want to learn.
The journey through Peregrine School is epic, with many twists and turns, but it is driven by one thing: a growing sense of agency on the part of each student. For a toddler, agency is knowing where your shoes are. As children mature, Peregrine’s program consciously gives students a little more agency each year, until sixth graders can do independent research projects and help to maintain the school grounds.
Whereas agency might involve knowing what you yourself want to study, it is tied closely to responsibility, initially to yourself, then to your class, and finally to the school and the world beyond it. Our goal is to create people who know what they are passionate about and who feel empowered act on their passions. To achieve this goal, we center our studies and projects around increasingly expansive questions:
For kindergarten students: Who am I in my family? How has my family formed me? What are my responsibilities to those around me?
For first and second graders: Who am I in my community and state? How am I formed by my place and responsible to it?
For third and fourth graders: Who am I as an American? How has the history of my country formed me? How am I responsible as a US citizen?
For fifth and sixth graders: Who am I as a human being? How have evolution and human history formed me? What is my responsibility to my world?
As I reflect on our school’s development, I am humbled by how fully our students have succeeded in embodying the agency and responsibility we hoped they would display when we first began Peregrine School in 2007. Furthermore, I am grateful for the capable and dedicated teachers and trusting parents who have persevered to make this epic journey possible.
You may not know why we are called “Peregrine School.” My daughter, Elena Whitcombe, chose the school’s name for two reasons: One is because of the Peregrine Falcon, an amazing bird which is not only smart and fast but which can adapt to almost any environment, rural or urban, anywhere in the world, and survive. We felt that this bird embodied the resilience which is essential for today’s children as they enter a rapidly changing world.
The second reason for adopting our school name is that a “Peregrino” in Spanish is a pilgrim. We at Peregrine view growing up as a hero’s journey, with many dimensions, facilitated by diverse experiences and by great teachers as guides. We hope that those of you just joining us can see the path ahead, and that you will decide to complete this journey with us—we do our best to make it worth the effort, by helping each child to find their own path.
May we all have a safe and joyful holiday, and return for a meaningful new year together.
Check out our gallery below for a look at our Native Garden both then and now!