Principles of Learning
We agree with influential educator Paulo Freire, who stated, “I can’t respect the teacher who doesn’t dream of a certain kind of society that he would like to live in, and would like the new generation to live in. [Educators should pursue] a dream of a society less ugly than those we have today.” We have it as a goal to get students to practice and implement critical thinking skills not only within the classroom but also in the broader world around them. Informed action, as a final step in the critical thinking process, is what will be a key driving force within the curriculum. It is our belief that the principles of Humane Education, with its focus on environmental and animal protection, human rights, and cultural concerns, best encourages students to be informed and informative and positive contributors to our larger society. Although informed by ecological education and environmental stewardship, our school attempts to take on the broader, more encompassing principles of Humane Education.
Curriculum (and Teacher Training)
The curriculum will take from the best practices of The Harbor School, the Common Ground School in Connecticut, the Solutionary Congresses through the Institute for Humane Education, and other successful programs. However, we will also borrow from and embrace the Food Studies Institute’s “Food is Elementary” curriculum and the Water Tank Project’s “Trace the Tap” curriculum. However, curriculum decisions will be made by fierce and honest discussions “on the ground” between the teachers and principal. As long as the teachers and principal adhere to the mission and principles of the school, it is expected that they will be given the leeway necessary to craft the curriculum.
It is also expected that a collective respect for and support of students and their creativity will lead to involvement from students in the decision-making at Rochester River School. Indeed, the best teachers both learn from and with their students.
Teachers will be expected to complete courses in non-violent communication training and restorative justice before the start of school. They will also be trained in advance of any projects in which the school participates. During each month, the entire staff will meet in structured, active forums where an agenda is circulated beforehand and people -- teachers, administrators, clerical workers, and bus drivers -- can discuss issues, concerns, and grievances. It is anticipated that regular exchange programs will be eventually established between the Rochester River School and the New York Harbor School, as well as the to-be-created Solutionary Congresses run by the Institute for Humane Education.
The Rochester River School’s curriculum will prepare students with essential knowledge, skills, and understandings, irrespective of primary language, ethnic background, or learning challenges.
We have developed our curricular framework with the end goal of ensuring that students graduate from high school equipped not only to survive but to thrive in the 21st century. The Rochester River School (RRS) will ground its curriculum in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), not only because that is required but because we believe they accurately reflect the skills of the future.
The Rochester River School will provide all students with the same rigorous content and will provide scaffolded supports as needed so that all students can access and make use of what they are learning. Students will not be placed into lower or higher tracks, although opportunities to accelerate into higher level courses will be made available to high school students.
Furthermore, we believe our model of active, collaborative, outdoor education combined with healthy diet may, in fact, be particularly supportive of some students with learning challenges. Caring for animals may particularly support children with certain behavioral and sensory needs.
Students Learning English as a Second Language
The Rochester River School expects to enroll ELL students in all grades and provide them with an academic program presented in English with the inclusion of specific strategies for ELL students and primary language support, as needed. This approach will ensure comprehension of academic content and the development of English as a second language (ESL). The instructional program at Rochester River School is designed to promote language acquisition, oral language development, and enriched learning opportunities for all students.
Students with Disabilities
The Rochester River School will be located in a district where a greater-than-average number of its students are students with disabilities and fully expects to enroll a comparable percentage of students with disabilities. RSS understands that all students will have equal access to its school; no student shall be denied admission, nor counseled out of RRS due to the nature, extent, or severity of his/her disability or due to the student’s request for, or actual need for, special education services.
RRS expects to enroll students with existing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). Following the
enrollment of a student with an existing IEP, RRS will implement the IEP developed by the CSE. It is also likely that RRC will enroll students who have not yet been identified as having a special need, but will follow best practices in identifying and supporting students with disabilities.
Why start in kindergarten?
The Rochester River School should begin at kindergarten level because as research has shown, students learn better at an earlier stage of their lives. Therefore, beginning at kindergarten is essential because children should be challenged at a younger age. At this early stage, the students will work on improving their reading, writing, math, and science skills, because this is when children learn the most. Their brain adjusts easily to different working environments and they are willing to learn. When students reach sixth grade, they begin to mentally drop out of school and when they reach high school they physically drop out. Such realities can occur because the students are not being challenged early enough or are not being taught in an environment in which they can appreciate the importance of an education. Therefore, a rigorous early childhood education is needed to get them used to being challenged in any situation. Also, longer school days with more project based learning will prepare the students even more and will keep them from getting into trouble or forgetting about school.
At the Rochester River School, students at the kindergarten level will be involved in community projects that can have a great impact in their community and the environment. These projects can range from learning the history of the place in which they live, working with the community for the betterment of the environment to working with corporations to change their ways of operating to avoid the destruction of pristine ecosystems in Rochester. These projects can be done with students from kindergarten through eighth grade, which will prepare them to be active members of the community and also will help them to become more mature and ready to work in bigger projects when they begin high school.
When the Rochester River School’s students reach the high school level, they will be highly proficient in their reading, writing, math and sciences, which will allow them to be involved in bigger projects. Some of the projects will include water quality testing, the creation of a project to restore the native fish population in the Genesee River, restoration of the nine spotted lady bug which is a native insect of Rochester, which can become a “Billion Bugs Project.” Other projects that the students can be involved are the creation of boats in which the students can learn a technical skill, and can also contribute to the community by donating these boats to institutions that will allow people to become educated and have river access and appreciate the environment in which they live. Another project that can be implemented is the restoration of the Genesee River through scuba diving. All of these projects will allow students to become, scientific divers, commercial divers, boat captains, restoration managers and most importantly all of these skills will allow the students to get jobs right after high school and still attend college. The students will be academically ready and also skill ready to enter the job force at any point after high school. This type of education is a great opportunity for Rochester to increase its graduation rates, decrease dropout rates and decrease the crime rates by keeping young people engaged in the community and staying out of trouble.
Sense of Place & Environmental Consciousness
As Paul Burgett of the University of Rochester put it, Rochester has the “legacy and assets” that will be a major focus of the Rochester River School’s curriculum and sense of place. Indeed, portions of the Genesee River, especially in the gorge, have been compared to far-off places such as British Columbia, in terms of the beauty of the place. Twenty million years of sedimentation and geologic history comprise the River ecosystem. The Genesee River enables the opportunity for students to study not only ecological history but also the history of Rochester, businesses along the water, and various industries that were based on the use of this north-flowing River, its power and significance not only in the founding of Rochester but also in the powering of this place.
Beyond the sedimentary history, a great amount of human and animal history is tied to the Genesee River. The first inhabitants of this area, the Seneca peoples, called this region “Geneseo,” or “beautiful valley”--a testament to the abundance and aesthetically-pleasing landscape. As America’s first boomtown--experiencing astounding population growth as a result of the completion of the Erie Canal--Rochester eventually became known as “The Young Lion of the West.” It became the “Flour City” first, providing for a time the world’s largest grain milling production in the nineteenth century. Soon after, the City of Rochester became the “Flower City” because the world’s largest nursery (and also seed manufacturers) were located here.
In 2017 the City of Rochester will celebrate its 200th anniversary. It is anticipated that the Rochester River School will play a major role in this anniversary.
What is Humane Education?
According to the Institute for Humane Education, humane education is the teaching of compassion and respect of animals, the environment, and humans. Humane education teaches the skills of commitment to live ethically, sustainably, and peacefully.
Humane Education includes four elements:
1. Providing accurate information (so we have the knowledge to face challenges);
2. Fostering the 3C’s: curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking (so we have the tools to meet challenges);
3. Instilling the 3R’s: reverence, respect, and responsibility (so we have the motivation to confront challenges);
4. Offering positive choices and tools for problem solving (so we will be able to solve challenges).
By Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Wallace January 20, 2016
The Washington Post