"... the great waste in school comes from the child’s inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while at the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning at school."
John Dewey, The School and Society (1899)
The Watershed School fosters the development of students with a strong sense of place who will be prepared to serve as stewards of their community. By gaining a understanding of the history, government, culture, and ecology of Alaska's interior, students will achieve academic excellence and expand their competency to the rest of the world. At every opportunity, we provide students with meaningful explorations and activities outside the classroom. We will teach each child with care, encouraging imaginative work and play, analytical and critical thinking skills, and a sense of social and ecological responsibility.
In addition to our science and social science curriculum based upon place-based education The Watershed School has distinctive curricular approaches for the education of our children of the Tanana Valley.
Although not bound by the FNSBSD English/Language Arts curriculum adoptions or suggested curriculum materials, The Watershed School follows the Ongoing Learner Goals, Concepts, and Mastery Core Objectives of the Fairbanks North Star Borough K-8 English/Language Arts Curriculum adopted May 3, 2005. The writers of the district’s curriculum, along with the FNSBSD Curriculum Department, crafted a solid curriculum based upon excellent language arts pedagogy.
Setting The Watershed School apart from most language arts programs will be the direct connection to our science and social studies curricular units. This is based on The Watershed School’s strong philosophy of thematic instruction. 50% of language arts instruction time will reinforce and relate to concepts covered in the science and social studies curriculum.
The Watershed School also follows the FNSBSD math curriculum’s Ongoing Learner Goals, Concepts, and Mastery Core Objectives adopted May 2, 2006. This curriculum, reinforced through a solid k-6 mathematics series, will make up our solid program. Middle school mathematics will reflect a high quality math program ranging from general math through pre-algebra.
Mathematics, in much the same way as language arts, will be connected to our natural science and social studies themes. 25% of our mathematics content will reflect our units of science and social studies.
Classroom teachers teach physical education to their students. The teachers lead their students in physical activity a minimum of 120 minutes per week (double the district requirement), excluding recess. In addition, our school has taken the innovative stand that 75% of physical education will take place outdoors. On severe weather days, the teachers conduct physical education in the school’s multi purpose room. An additional opportunity for exercise will take place when science and social studies units are created to relate to the local community. Every science and social studies unit will include getting students out of the school building and into the community or the outdoors.
The Watershed School believes a solid component of a child’s education is physical education. The State Education Standard is the policy journal of the National Association of State Boards of Education. In 2004 it released “The Role Schools in Preventing Childhood Obesity.” It begins with this sobering introduction:
While the U.S. Surgeon General has identified the obesity epidemic as one of the greatest health problems facing the nation today, educators have had their attention elsewhere. Today’s schools face intense pressure to focus on standardized tests and consequently have placed less emphasis on the broader view of a healthy mind in a healthy body. However, an increasing number of educators and school board members are realizing, as the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) has written: “Health and success in school are interrelated. Schools cannot achieve their primary mission of education if students and staff are not healthy and fit physically, mentally, and socially.
(The State Education Standard, 2004, p2)
Since 1980, the percentage of children who are overweight has more than doubled, while rates among adolescents have more than tripled. According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the number of overweight Americans increased over 60 percent between 1991 and 2000! An even more disheartening statistic is that the percentage of overweight children between the ages two and five increased by almost 36 percent in the same time period. A decade ago, type 2 diabetes was almost unheard of among young people, but in some communities it now accounts for nearly 50 percent of new cases of diabetes among children or adolescents. Diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease and an estimated 61 percent of overweight young people have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.
In the United States children who watch the most TV and play the most video games are the most overweight. Curiously enough, all during the same period in which American youth have had the highest rates of participation in organized sports in history. The missing element in children’s lives is the extensive outdoor recreational and educational time that until recently was a major part of the childhood routine.
Being overweight in childhood is also associated with social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005), pointed out the role of outdoor recreation in children’s emotional development. He states, “Nature is often overlooked as a healing balm for the emotional hardships in a child’s life. You’ll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals. But parents, educators, and health care workers need to know what a useful antidote to emotional and physical stress nature can be…A 2003 survey published in the journal Psychiatric Services, found the rate at which American children are prescribed anti-depressants almost doubled in five years; the steepest increase-66 percent-was among preschool children.” Outdoor exercise, coined, “Nature’s Ritalin,” by author Stephen Putnam (2001) is becoming more frequently introduced as a treatment for attention deficit disorder. Putnam points out that movement in outdoor spaces can help satisfy the “wanderer, hunter, farmer, and gatherer in all of us.”
While recreational activity in natural outdoor settings may not be the cure-all for children with the most severe attention deficit disorder, it certainly will be a powerful tool. At The Watershed School, outdoor recreation will be a significant component of our physical and emotional wellness curriculum. With our teachers setting the example for our children by being the primary instructors for physical education and outdoor recreation, our children will be on their way to a healthy lifestyle.
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Though the educational program at The Watershed School places a great emphasis on the natural sciences and community, we believe that creative arts are crucial to healthy child development and a well-rounded educational program. Our classroom teachers responsible for incorporating a vibrant creative arts program into their teaching routine. The arts program at The Watershed School includes exposure to and appreciation of varied art forms, both within the local community and world-wide, while allowing guided experimentation with different materials and building skills in various media.
The creative arts program includes the following areas: visual arts, music and movement, and dramatic and literary arts. Teachers incorporate creative arts into daily classroom activities, and attempts will be made to tie art projects to school-wide and/or classroom themes. We will draw on community arts resources for project ideas, teacher guidance and mentoring, and at times direct work with students. The Watershed School will assemble a panel of interested (volunteer) community artists representing the three different creative arts areas. This panel will be asked to help generate project ideas for each grade level in the artists’ respective artistic areas, again keeping in mind the school themes of local ecology and culture. The school will generate a list of local artists with interest in helping with project implementation and teacher and curriculum guidance. Creative art activities will be developmentally appropriate, and will encourage both individual creativity and collaboration with peers.
Students and their families are actively encouraged to attend local arts events, such as concerts, museum exhibits, native arts festivals, poetry or story readings, and dramatic productions. The school will facilitate these activities by including local arts events calendars in school and classroom newsletters, obtaining student/group discounts whenever possible, and organizing field trips and visiting performances and artists.
While The Watershed School may not be able to provide individual or group music instruction (i.e. band/orchestra/chorus) due to budgetary constraints, we will assist families in coordinating private instruction and offer practice and/or lesson space in the facility outside school hours as we are able. We will also partner with other community performance groups and schools to allow students with more advanced musical and dramatic interests a venue for instruction, practice, and performance.
At The Watershed School, we have a high emphasis on academic excellence in all grade levels. This, along with the sense of community developed over elementary school years and the children’s close relationship with natural surroundings, will support our middle school aged place-based philosophy.
Research has shown that in schools where real-world academic assignments require higher order thinking skills, student achievement is higher. The following principals of a developmentally appropriate middle school aged curriculum, developed by the National Middle School Association (2003, pp.20-24), closely parallel the philosophy of The Watershed School.
1.Relevant to the everyday lives of adolescents and what they wonder about themselves, the world or a content area. Their interest should generate questions upon which study will be based, while still exposing them to new concepts and ideas as their interests expand.
2.Challenging yet achievable. Teachers should assist students to examine values, assumptions, and alternate viewpoints, addressing why and how things happen, as they become thinkers with their own ideas.
3.Integrative without arbitrary subject boundaries since real life issues are naturally transdisciplinary. Content subjects should infuse reading and writing as they apply.
4.Exploratory, providing broad experiences and exposure affording the opportunity to discover their interests and talents and to become more well rounded individuals.
Beginning Fall 2010, the Watershed School's seventh and eighth grades will operate somewhat differently than the elementary grades. The Watershed School strongly believes that in elementary school our students should have the same teacher all-day-long for two years (looping model). In 7th and 8th students will rotate between two teachers. There are two reasons for this. For one, we can have highly qualified content area teachers who focus on specific areas of curriculum. The second advantage is that it will help students prepare for the multiple teachers they’ll encounter in high school. At any given time, we will have slightly fewer than fifty students in seventh and eighth grades. By using creative scheduling our two middle school teachers will provide a stimulating mix of language arts, social sciences, sciences, and beginning and advanced math classes. For advanced students, we will attempt to offer independent study such as math beyond pre-algebra. For our learning disabled students, resource support will be integrated throughout the content areas.
Another unique feature of The Watershed School, when compared with larger stand alone middle schools, will be the opportunity to increase student involvement in planning the educational programs. In keeping with our place-based philosophy and project-based emphasis, students and teachers can plan activities around math and science that the students find interesting and relevant. In the social sciences, the students work with teacher guidance to plan service-learning projects that bring meaning to their education.
As the oldest students in a K-8 school, seventh and eighth graders will also have the opportunity to serve as mentors and leaders within the school. Taking on this role helps build students’ self-esteem during this critical adolescent period. Middle school aged students want to feel that what they do matters and that they have the ability to make a difference. When students this age work with younger students they begin to see themselves as role models and strive to contribute positively to the education of the younger students.
As in all grade levels of The Watershed School, the involvement of parents and the relatively small size of the school gives it much of its character. Three things parents traditionally feel are priorities: school-wide intimacy, a solid educational program, and a safe and positive learning environment, all can be achieved through a small school running on the K-8 model. If children are known by every teacher in the building, and most children have a relationship of nine years' duration with staff, you end up with an exceptional educational focus and intensity. Research overwhelmingly suggests that it is essential for middle grade students to have an adult in the building with whom they have a supportive relationship. With our seventh and eighth grade model of two teachers, supported by other teachers who have know these students for years, our children will not fall through the cracks. The National Middle School Association (2003) recommends home rooms as an essential component of middle schools. The Watershed School can exceed the intimacy of the home room, as our small student numbers and small staff will provide a family-like atmosphere.
In addition, 7th and 8th graders in K through 8 schools are less likely to fall victim to negative peer pressure than they are in large stand-alone middle schools and junior highs. Less social pressure, an emotionally safer environment, and more opportunities for autonomy and leadership are prevalent in a small school model. With the lower social pressure, staff can look for higher expectations because students already know and are comfortable with this group of peers, and teachers already know to what standards students are capable of rising.
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Block Scheduling is another element made possible by the small school structure of The Watershed School. We provide for large blocks of uninterrupted time to conduct large-scale projects and out-of-building investigations, which are hallmarks of our school. For instance, in the middle school, rather than having every class each day for a short period of time, The Watershed School has the flexibility to have only two or three classes in one day, each for a longer time period, resulting in fewer transitions for students. High quality work and less wasted time will be the end result. This model also allows time for students who need remedial help or enrichment without affecting the daily schedule.
The Watershed School Charter School delivers special education services that comply with School District policy and state and federal law. Children with different learning abilities will receive a high quality education at The Watershed School.
Teaching through multiple strategies and allowing for flexibility in ways to display mastery of classroom work is a hallmark of good instruction. Project-based learning, one of the main components of The Watershed School, involves learning through experiences. Many of our projects will focus on ecological concepts, while others will have a strong service-learning component. Highly relevant concepts like these, which use hands-on, flexible performance, and authentic experiences, work well with all children. They also allow for alternative approaches that address students' individual differences, variations in learning styles, intelligences, abilities, and disabilities.
The mission of the Effie Kokrine Charter School serves as a powerful argument for the formation of The Watershed School:
… provide educational opportunities for students to succeed in the world by developing a strong sense of purpose, identity, place and community through cultural and academic empowerment. One emphasis of this new school is a strong connection between what students experience in school and in their communities. The school will provide many cultural activities and other opportunities for real-world learning. Another emphasis is that this school will focus on academic excellence by utilizing a curriculum that accommodates individual learning styles of students in an active, project-based learning environment.
The Watershed School is an obvious choice as a powerful feeder school to Effie Kokrine Charter School. Both schools place a heavy emphasis on authentic learning tasks that bring the real world into the classrooms and take the classrooms out into the real world. Any child, whether it is an Interior Athabascan Indian, Yup’ik Eskimo of Southwest Alaska, Latino immigrant from Mexico’s Copper Canyon, or a transplant from Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, will benefit from our curriculum’s heavy focus and embedded respect for all cultures and a specific focus on developing a deep connection to local cultures. This grounding is essential for our children from diverse cultural backgrounds.
The Watershed School will exceed all of the Alaska Standards for Culturally Responsive Schools. A review of these standards clearly illustrates how our place-based curriculum is a perfect match to the diverse cultural origins of our community of children.
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