Why The School House?
The School House moniker came from a melding of two points in history. The first was the original American School House. This occurred as our citizenry was stepping away from solely religious-based education and into a more secular education intended for all members of society. Secondly, in 1915 Dr. Maria Montessori presented The Glass School House at the Pan-American World Fair. It was an enormous structure made with large glass panels so that audiences could look in and see the intricacies and effectiveness of her curriculum. Pasteurization, the first trans-continental phone call and Ford’s assembly line all presented at the 1915 Fair, however only Montessori claimed the top prize.
Why the mixing of pedagogies?
Pedagogy (the science of how humans learn) is a dynamic field that changes almost daily. Yet, there have been methods of learning starting as long ago as the 1600’s that have been proven time and again to be the definitive way we process information, ideas and problems.
In our estimation, there has never been a more complete, evidence-based curriculum than the Montessori Method. Make no mistake, Montessori has a terrible branding problem. The general public associates Montessori with endless freedom or Google-esque modernity or cultivating a sequestered learning environment. None of these things are true Montessori. Dr. Montessori was a scientist who invented the jungle gym, the school lunch, the PTA. Her materials and curriculum are based on hands-on learning, respecting children instead of reprimanding or corralling them and freedom within structure. The great travesty of her work is that its misunderstood. We’re changing that.
Additionally, Project-Based Learning (or PBL) is popular now, but has been around since the beginning of humanity in the form of apprenticeship - the idea that we all learn by doing and we learn multiple things in that effort. Socratic Method is a highly effective way of solving problems, improving human communication and using several creative minds to inform one another. And Reggio-Emilia - although the newest pedagogy having been developed in the 1950s - adds an outstanding art and nature component using hundreds of materials including many from the natural world to create large-scale pieces that are meticulously displayed in the school and throughout the community.
But you mix these pedagogies with American traditional school elements?
The idea of public school in America is a beautiful one full of possibilities and steeped in our country’s underlying hopeful ideals. We don’t believe it’s enough to put a child in a pedological school. Children need a full-bodied Performing Arts program; they need Sports which enhances sportsmanship, fosters healthy competition and movement; they need diversity, specifically economic diversity and an innate awareness of the community around them; and finally we want them to understand and experience civics - the history of our country and how the government works. After all, that was the original intent of American public schools 150 years ago.
So the American Emergent Curriculum (AEC) is a melding of these things?
Yes. It’s taking what we know works in learning and combining those pedagogies with what we love about American traditional schools. We are not following tired models anymore. Montessori fighting with Waldorf or public fighting with private schools. The result is that the kids get lost and we wonder why we are where we are as a society. We have one shot from 0-12 years old to help these little humans be their best selves. There’s nothing more important. The answers are there - they’ve been there - but now we’re pulling them together under one umbrella.
How does the AEC compare to Common Core (CCSS)?
What we’re saying is that we’re aware of the CCSS. We know our children are going to leave us and go into an environment where standards matter. However, for those children entering the lower grades, there is a shift occurring nationwide. Almost 1000 colleges do not require SATs for entrance any longer; the opt out movement on Long Island now counts 73% of parents as participants. The testing business has the same GDP as the National Football League. People get its nefarious nature. The landscape is changing.
Our teachers have a working group that meets every Friday for three hours. There we discuss a number of things: individual children, curriculum adjustments and the Common Core. We look at the tests and ask: How can we present this to children without using just a pen and paper? How can we make it meaningful? So when they graduate from The School House not only can they ace whatever comes their way, they also understand the root of what they’ve learned… and by the way also have a great time learning it!
Why only 125 children?
Our mission is to build the best pre-k through 5th grade school in the world. To do that, we want to be thoughtful about our decisions and engaged with every young learner. There is room for expansion eventually.
How are teachers trained?
AEC Training consists of 200 hours of training for all staff members including our teaching assistants, administrators, sports, performing arts, language, music and support staff. This training covers PBL, Socratic Method, Reggio-Emilia, CCSS and AMI/AMS assistant training at varying class levels. Training everyone in the AEC is vital to keeping a consistent culture and knowledge base among our team.
Additionally, each lead teacher must have completed AMI or AMS teacher training - one of the most difficult trainings a teacher can undergo as it consists of three summers at a remote location (Denver, Boston, etc) and hours of further study in-between sessions.
Each Friday, team members meet between noon and 3 pm for a three-hour session where we discuss our learners, evaluate curriculum, connect with guest speakers and share innovations.
What are some of the other components of The School House?
We’ve isolated some areas in education that deserve vital attention and in turn incorporated them into our daily schedule. One of the things our team loves best are our Ambassadors of Kindness. These two AMI-trained Ambassadors have but one roll at The School House and that is to procure grace, courtesy and kindness among our community of learners. They are responsible for the culture of the school. Whether it’s in the dining hall, on the field or during a lesson our thoughtful Ambassadors practice communication, role-playing and developing tools of kindness just as we’re developing tools in math, science and literacy.
We’ve also incorporated what we believe to be other necessities at The School House like Parent Enrichment, a Little Blue Bus, Language Immersion, Science & Art Everyday, the Origin of Objects, a Staff Naturalist and Integrated not obvious Tactile Technology.
Its a newer, more effective PTA. The School House only fundraises once a year, so we don’t need the PTA to serve in that capacity. What’s more important to parents is what are my children learning and how are they learning it or how can I use elements of the AEC to change the way I interact with my children at home?
Parents meet monthly to discuss all this and more. They are given sample lessons, introduced to guest speakers and offered opportunities to connect with other moms and dads.
What is Integrated Tactile Technology?
Integrated Tactile Technology is the idea that technology is a tool and it’s best used sporadically and for a specific purpose. For instance, an augmented reality sandbox is the ideal tool for learning about land and water. A home assignment that includes watching the David Attenborough documentary Raising Giants while learning about the Timeline of Life provides another layer of understanding.
Who are the Founders of The School House?
Two entrepreneurs… and they happened to be married! Mimosa Jones Tunney whose background is rich in government, non-profits, education and entertainment. And John Tunney who has been a successful hospitality developer and innovator most of his life as well as a respected entrepreneur outside of the hospitality industry with a particular connection to concept development, product invention and technology. Their inspiration came from their children, but also in simply looking at a problem from another viewpoint, using talented teachers in different ways, putting learners first, running a school like a small business, creating a culture and asking how can we do this old model better?
Recently a non-profit called 4Oceans did a similar thing with pollution. Two surfers wanted to clean up the world’s oceans. To do that they needed people. In looking at the problem a different way, they approached fisherman around the world who could no longer make a decent living catching fish and outfitted them with the tools and money to collect (or fish for) plastic instead. Now they get paid by the pound of plastic instead of the pound of fish.
For us it’s a similar journey. Take all these pedagogies that are fighting to be right, integrate them with our nostalgic love for American education and craft a new curriculum.