HOPE — Hope Corner, that small but lively — and growing — center of a largely rural town, is home again to an elementary school. It’s a logical extension to what has been developing there, where creative enterprise has energized the community in myriad ways. A popular general store, a town office, fire station and library, playing fields and a park, orchards, a church, a restaurant and artisan studios have painted a far different landscape than what existed a decade ago. Now it is time for children to expand the dynamics even more.
The Sweetland School, which opened Sept. 9, is an outgrowth of Sweet Tree Arts, a community arts organization that established itself across from the General Store. Its founder, Lindsey Pinchbeck, is moving an educational vision forward, one that integrates an academic program with the arts. She describes it as a school where opportunities are “relevant, bold and joyful.”
The school is open to students age five to 11, a place where a flexible schedule is maintained so that parents can find room in their daily routines to be more involved in their children’s education. The program offers a two-, three- or five-day academic program, which is appealing to parents who are home-schooling their children.
“The school is created to support families,” said Pinchbeck.
Pinchbeck holds a master’s degree in education from Lesley College, and a bachelor’s degree in art and music from Colby College. She has been teaching the arts for 15 years, in traditional and non traditional classroom settings, and is a printmaker, as well as a photographer. Previously, she taught photography at the Riley School and Maine Media Workshops.
She is passionate about education and the philosophy of honoring multiple intelligences — inspiring the “whole learner.”
Teachers will get to know the personalities of the students, and fine-tune individual educational approaches. With a ratio of six students to one teacher, the emphasis is on understanding the learning style of each student.
Pinchbeck looks to the work of educators Howard Gardner and Ken Robinson for inspiration. Gardner is known for his definition of multiple intelligences, seven of them. His theory is that students are of different minds, and learn, understand and remember in different ways. These varied ways of learning challenge conventional educational systems, in which students are expected to learn predominantly through language — linguistic models of instruction and assessment.
But the other ways of learning, according to Gardner, include the visual-spatial, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and the logical-mathematical.
Pinchbeck and assistant teacher Ariela Kuh also look to Robinson, who advocates for an overhaul of education practices so that the individual is encouraged by creative teaching and less by the standardized testing. (See his TEDtalk here.)
She adds other educators and artists to the list of those who inspire her efforts: John Dewey, Elliot Eisner, Lily Yeh, Paulo Freire, and Alfie Kohn.
Ariela Kuh graduated from Hampshire College, and then moved to Philadelphia where she taught at a Quaker School. They will be using Wilson Language Training, a reading and spelling curriculum that is multi-sensory and structured.
“The Wilson Language Fundations program provides tools to allow students to take charge of their learning and become confident independent readers,” said Pinchbeck.
And they will be in line with Common Core: “With a keen eye on the Common Core Standards, we aim to prepare our students to excel and be confident in many learning environments,” the school said. “Balance is key. We encourage students to work diligently, nurture the creative spirit and to be stewards of our land and the wider world.”
Common Core, launched in 2009, is a state-initiated effort to establish consistent learning goals. Common Core now includes 48 states and the District of Columbia.
Most of all, Pinchbeck wants to keep the conversations about education moving, and to avoid getting mired down in specific philosophies.
“They also need to move and grow,” she said.
Her guiding principles are:
Collaborate with local and global organizations.
Integrate the arts.
Nourish families in the community through joyful events and enriching experiences.
Building a strong foundation of academics.
Instill curiosity and a sense of wonder through scientific inquiry, story and innovative ideas.
And storytelling is a large part of the program.
“Storytelling is at the heart of all learning,” she said. “Know your family’s story, know folklore from your family’s heritage. Share your story.”
Pinchbeck is inviting in teachers to work with students. Their backgrounds include the arts, science, cultural studies and foreign language. They include music mentors Gilda Joffe and Jess Day, who teaches music, musical theater and guitar, as well as Marlee Luehman, who will teach math through movement and a literacy-based, multi-sensory curriculum.
And the location of Sweetland School is an opportunity to incorporate hyper-local trips — walking field trips — into the curriculum.
True Park is across the road. The Hope Historical Society is nearby, as is the town’s library, fire station and orchard. There is a clay studio, printmaking and photography studio, and gardens.
“All these opportunities are right here,” said Pinchbeck. “We’d be crazy not to take advantage of them.”
Further afield, the school is collaborating with Coastal Opportunities and Quarry Hill, using the arts to bring generations together.
Meanwhile, Sweet Tree Arts continues its community programming with an after-school program that includes African dance, ukelele, film, writing and arts programming for artists ages 5-18. Sweet Tree Arts also offers adult classes and family events.
“It is important to the mission of Sweet Tree Arts to continue to support the community allowing families to participate on many levels, and be a part of an active community arts center and also for our students in Sweetland school program to feel they are apart of a working thriving community welcoming creative experience and thought,” she said.
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