For the past 5+ weeks I have been teaching summer school. As far as we know, the school is the only one of its kind: a summer boarding school which exists only for its summer students. Unlike typical 9-month schools which lay mostly dormant in the summer, this school lays mostly dormant for 9 months. Being in this environment is in some ways the most traditional, and yet in other ways non-traditional experience for the students and teachers alike.
For starters… Say good bye to SmartBoards, lesson plans with integrated technology, and state testing. The school has never embraced technology as part of its teaching and learning tools. Students compose essays on lined paper and search for definitions in hand-held dictionaries. Teachers write weekly reports on carbon paper half sheets which are reminiscent of old receipts. (Use a ball point pen on a hard surface — there are four pages of paper to press through!) Math classes focus on skill building and procedural fluency without dependence on calculators. You never see a computer or smart phone anywhere except in the main office where administrative assistants print rosters for hiking trips and emails from parents. In these ways, the school has a very traditional feel.
What is not traditional is that every student has a goals document and comes to the school to work on those goals. (This is so much different than the outcome-driven nature of most high schools — public schools must worry about graduation rates and pass rates on state tests; private schools worry a lot about college placement as their published outcome.). Teachers meet the students where they are academically — easily done since the typical class size is five — and take them as far as they can go in six weeks. Teachers have high content knowledge in their subject area and significant experience (average number of years teaching is in the 20s) with the age group they teach. Academic growth is not measured by a score on a computerized final test, but by whether or not the student has met his or her personal goals, the center of which are not the “grades” of the successful student, but rather the “habits” of a successful student.
What supports this non-traditional mission is the traditional daily schedule which is a highly supervised, routinized program of family-style meals, classes, athletic and art activities, study hall, and lights out. The objective is for the students to begin to internalize these habits so that they can put them into action in their year-round schools.
For example, a traditional aspect of this summer school’s day which has been all but lost in most families and schools is the sit-down meal. We eat three of these meals daily at assigned tables that change weekly. It gives us time to pause as a school community and time talk to each other before the busy morning class schedule, the afternoon activities, and the evening study hall. Teaching and learning is going on in the dining hall, on the residential campuses, and during intramural games all the time in that the program supports healthy, connected community living.
Another traditional aspect of school life is the nightly study hall. Students study independently for two hours without the help of parents, tutors, teachers or technology. They are learning to be independent and resourceful through practice and experience. The study hall buildings are closely supervised and it is silent in there (except for the 15 minute break).
As a teacher, one thing I cherish at this summer school is the sacred instructional time. No interruptions, period. No parents coming to check out their children. No leaving early for a track meet. No missing class for a dentist appointment. My attendance rate for my students has been 100% this summer. When students are in class day after day (six days week!), they learn quite a bit.
Here are some typical classroom spaces:
I could go on and on about teaching and learning at this summer boarding school — but I can smell the burgers the cooks are preparing for us as part of out traditional Sunday picnic supper. We have ten more days with our students and colleagues in this paradise. See you in the classrooms and see you at the pond!