The Chewonki Foundation’s pilot elementary school has utilized more than 100 years of the foundation’s educational programs and practices to bring learning to life for students.
“This is a situation where kids really love school,” said Anna Hunt, director of school programs. “The kids are really engaged and happy. It’s so nice and refreshing what’s happening.”
The Elementary School at Chewonki launched as a pilot class for grades three through five in September 2015. Following a unanimous vote by the Chewonki Foundation Board of Directors in February, the pilot school will become a permanent part of the foundation’s programming.
“This has been in our strategic plan for awhile, but we thought it would happen further out,” Hunt said.
Due to inquiries from several families and the addition of experienced place-based educator Kat Radune to the staff, Chewonki launched the pilot program earlier than anticipated with the understanding that the program would be reviewed mid-year to determine if it would continue, Hunt said.
The pilot program, which began as one class, will not only continue, but will also expand into two classrooms serving grades three through six, with plans to add a classroom for grades seven and eight in the near future.
Nine students are currently enrolled in the elementary school; all nine plan to return next year, Hunt said.
The Elementary School at Chewonki is a private, place-based educational program that combines rigorous academic studies with experiential learning. The school, accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, follows the hours of a typical school day.
In developing the program, Chewonki focused on the intentional use of campus resources to provide a rich educational environment for students both indoors and outside, Hunt said.
The curriculum is largely the work of Radune, who seeks to integrate the Common Core standards of math, science, social studies, reading, and writing into lesson plans and projects based on the resources of the Chewonki campus and the interests of students.
“I’m a big dork; developing curriculum is my favorite part,” Radune said. “We look at the standards and the academic benchmarks. Then we add in the layers of where kids are at developmentally and what we can use on the Chewonki Neck.”
Radune has extensive experience as an educator in both private and public schools. She earned her Master of Education degree from Antioch University New England, where she worked closely with David Sobel, a leading proponent of the place-based educational philosophy, which involves a hands-on, project-based approach to learning rooted in students’ immediate environment.
She has also worked with the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, Calif., which is developing a national edible-education curriculum for schools. The curriculum transforms kitchens and gardens into interactive, interdisciplinary classrooms, according to the Edible Schoolyard Project website.
Radune joining the Chewonki Foundation staff made the decision to launch an elementary school “a lot easier,” Hunt said. “To have a teacher with such vast experience is exactly what we wanted.”
The lesson plans that are developed act as guides, Radune said, but if “all the kids are super excited about something not planned,” Radune transforms that excitement into a project that incorporates rigorous academic standards.
Over the winter, kids became fascinated by the ice they saw, Radune said. Their fascination turned into an in-depth scientific study of ice. Kids examined the way ice forms on different bodies of water, such as salt water and fresh water, she said.
During the school day, blocks of time are devoted to literacy, math, and reading, which are taught through hands-on projects.
Students recently completed the second edition of the elementary school’s newspaper, the Chewonki Chronicle, where they worked as writers, reporters, illustrators, and editors. Through the project, students learned grammar, punctuation, and a variety of writing styles, such as news reporting, feature writing, columns, and editorials.
Students are also in the process of creating a field guide of the Chewonki campus and have developed a scientific log of the animals spotted on campus throughout the day. Students record the longitude and latitude of the animals seen for the scientific log, which is then displayed on a three-dimensional map.
Students visit the Chewonki Foundation’s farm and the traveling natural history program each week. The traveling natural history program incorporates live animals in presentations to public schools and community groups.
Radune and staff at the farm and the natural-history program coordinate with each other. When elementary school students arrive to work with the farm or the natural-history program, the lessons students are working on are reinforced.
Feeding and bathing the animals from the natural-history program is one of student Theona Gehan’s favorite activities, she said. “I never imagined Chewonki would make a school, but now that it has one I’m really appreciative to be in it,” Gehan said.
Math is one of student Ada Tholen’s favorite subjects, but “I like pretty much everything,” she said. From eating snacks and lunch outside to learning about new animals through Chewonki’s traveling history program to writing for the newspaper, Tholen said she likes “all the extra things we get to do.”
The Elementary School at Chewonki is a natural evolution of the foundation’s commitment to experiential education, President Willard Morgan said. “It’s just fun to see how excited kids are. They like school. They want to be here.”
“When you have student engagement, everything else just flows,” Morgan said. “We don’t have to enforce learning. (Students) are excited and driven to learn.”
Even as the school adds classrooms, it will remain intentionally small, Hunt said. Classes are limited to 12 students and will have a teacher and assistant teacher.
Tuition for 2016-2017 is $12,480 with financial aid available for qualifying families, according to the website. The Elementary School at Chewonki will host an open house Sunday, May 15 from 2-3:30 p.m. For more information, call 882-7323 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.