While there is more than one model for arts-based education, the Mountain Phoenix curriculum is primarily inspired by Waldorf education while simultaneously integrating standards and experiential education. Waldorf is a pedagogy based on developmentally appropriate learning that incorporates a balance of thinking, feeling and doing activities. Such an approach prepares students for rigorous academics in a supportive environment. Waldorf education is delivered through an arts-infused curriculum, giving students a depth of experience in music, performance, and visual arts.
Components of the MPCS Educational Program
This arts-based approach brings together many components in order to be effective in the public school setting and to meet state and federal standards along with the needs of our community. These 10 components define the most significant areas of the Mountain Phoenix educational program
Developmentally Appropriate Practices
Developmentally appropriate educational practices are based on child development principles and scientific evidence regarding brain development and the growth of neural and cognitive structures. Its primary goals include: (1) develop skills and competence in all areas (intellectual, social / emotional, and physical); (2) develop self-esteem and positive feelings about learning; and (3) be responsive to individual differences in developmental stage, ability, and interests. A developmentally appropriate curriculum simultaneously attends to children’s intellectual, physical, social, and ethical development because it recognizes that a child’s thoughts, emotions, imagination, and predisposition are interrelated and operate concurrently. MPCS’s curricular content is chosen to mirror the child’s developmental stage, which engages the “whole child” and creates a learning environment where knowledge, skills, disposition and feelings are integrated within each child in a holistic and balanced way. Curricular content is designed to meet children where they are and enhance their love of learning.
Integrated and Interdisciplinary Curriculum
An integrated curriculum gives students the opportunity to experience the interrelated nature of all subjects, and makes learning relevant in their own lives. Revealing the connections that exist across disciplines allows students to experience the world around them as an integrated whole. It facilitates active, engaged learning, and encourages children to bring multiple intelligences and experiences to the learning activity. Research findings demonstrate students learn better, retain more knowledge, and enjoy school more when this approach is utilized during learning. Likewise, teachers find greater success covering required subject material through integrated curriculum. Main lesson blocks are scheduled for 2 hours each morning for 3 to 4 weeks per unit. Throughout a 1st through 8th grade Waldorf education, students gain rich content knowledge in history, geography, sciences, literature and skills classes. Wherever possible, skills and artistic subjects at the school are integrated with the main lesson.
The arts play an important role and provide highly effective tools for learning, exploring and mastering material. This approach recognizes the direct link between art, music and movement and high academic achievement. Woven throughout the curriculum, the arts support children’s deep understanding and academic success in unique and developmentally appropriate ways. This multifaceted approach allows information to be presented in a variety of ways, including: verbal/linguistic, mathematical/logical, visual/spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, as well as musical/rhythmic. Through the stimulation of all systems, MPCS’s curriculum embraces a myriad of learning styles and ensures that each student has the opportunity to succeed. Children, despite their differences, have an opportunity to completely participate in their own education and discover unsuspected talents.
Experiential Learning, Immersion, and Mastery
Children are engaged in the content of learning through direct-instruction, as well as project based learning. The Immersion – Mastery approach to academics is the experiential learning component of our education model. It is readily employed with the arts based and integrated curricula. Meaningful projects are encouraged throughout the main lesson blocks, as well as during elective offerings at the middle school level. Immersion is an experiential process that gives each child the time to discover, integrate and experiment with new information and ideas before the teacher expects mastery. Mastery of skills is supported by our team of interventionists that join with class teachers to ensure that all students are learning at their instructional levels in math, reading and writing. This approach supports students so they have a clear, correct, and complete understanding of the material and its context so they can prosper as learners. Students are asked to create their own main lesson books, portfolios, projects, artwork, as well as other formal and informal assessments as demonstrations of mastery.
Multicultural Education and Foreign Language Program
This method allows students to experience the value and beauty of different cultures in ways that expand their academic capacity and deepen their appreciation for diversity. In this way, the school community will guide students towards a sense of equality among all human beings and foster acceptance, respect, understanding and social tolerance. Some of these cultures will be experienced through our two day per week immersion Spanish language program starting in kindergarten and continuing all the way through 8th grade, as well as during in-depth main lesson work. The purpose of foreign language teaching in our school is to develop the capacity in our students to acquire new languages. Non-violent Communication techniques will be modeled by all school staff and integrated into the curriculum.
Cooperative Learning and Thematic Study
Cooperative learning helps facilitate community building. Thematic learning provides students the opportunity to explore a concept or content-related subject in depth. Students are active participants in their own learning. Once given the learning objectives or benchmarks they are to attain, students are supported in their journey to attain them. They are taught to self assess when they have done so. Individual and cooperative project work builds on academic and social skills and often requires students to employ creativity and ingenuity as they discover the problem solving process. This approach gives teachers the flexibility to individualize the curriculum to meet each student’s needs while at the same time offering a lasting sense of educational ownership. The main lesson that lasts for 3 to 4 weeks provides the structure for this type of thematic learning.
MPCS keeps an active eye on national and state standards so that students are prepared for entrance into main stream education, should they wish to pursue it. Waldorf education prepares students to be flexible thinkers who are able to apply what they have learned to other situations. It creates an environment where different levels of ability, development, and learning styles are embraced as each child continually works to acquire competence in all areas. Some classes are multi-age, mostly in the kindergarten and middle school. Students stay with the same teacher for a period of several years (looping), which not only provides all the benefits of continuity for both teacher and student, but also contributes to the secure and nurturing learning environment because it promotes the development of community building skills and attitudes. MPCS has two classes per grade level in most cases, which allows administration to place students where they are most likely to prosper and learn if they have asynchronous needs. Knowing and understanding each child’s needs is important to us.
Assessments in reading and math are done each year in the fall and spring. Such results are used to place students in skills groups where they are met where they are, so that all students grow academically. MPCS is in compliance with state reporting and must also participate in annual CSAP testing for grades three through eight. Such testing takes place in February and March of each year. These assessments measure students’ mastery of state standards. Although standards are important to MPCS staff, we acknowledge standards to be all consuming should that be our main focus. We continue to be dedicated to our Articulation of Instruction Philosophy where the school’s focus is on development of a healthy balance of thinking, feeling and willing in our students. Scope and Sequences for each subject area are in the process of development and will be posted on our website for parents to view. Waldorf education teaches children to think and therefore, we are confident students who attend the school over time will also test well. We do not teach to the test, however. Our curriculum and approach prepare students for success in life, so they will be able to impart purpose and direction to their own lives. That is our greatest goal.
Community-Building and Community Involvement
MPCS believes a strong school community must also establish itself as an integral part of the larger community. Our curricular model will reach the greater community through partnerships and community based learning activities. Service Leaning and Community Service are integrated into the life of students–from doing chores at the end of each day to clean up and prepare for the coming day–to serving those in need outside our immediate community–MPCS is dedicated to service and sustainable practices. Efforts are being made to develop these systems within our school community. MPCS will bring highly qualified community members into the classroom to share their expertise and enhance learning opportunities and instruction. Benefits of these community-building initiatives include: increased parent-community-school partnerships, decreased student- teacher ratios, and greater flexibility to respond to individual student needs. These opportunities will encourage community-wide learning and information sharing in ways that keep MPCS’s community healthy, vibrant, and strong.
Connecting learning to a sense of place is an integral part of building community. An outdoor learning program will be developed to fit our curriculum and educational design. This aspect of the curriculum is intended to foster an awareness and exploration of the relationship of self to community and the natural world.
Main Lesson Blocks
Subjects are studied in blocks of days and most often weeks. In the course of each main lesson block, other academic disciplines are addressed through a common theme when possible. Further, state standards are aligned and integrated with each study before the study begins. Each teacher creates a block schedule with each academic area and standard to be covered. MPCS is in compliance with NCLB and state standards.
Highly effective learning environments allow students to actively create their own knowledge and understanding by connecting new learning to prior knowledge and experience. Effective classrooms are organized for active, hands-on learning and flexible grouping. The environment in which the students study is critical in the Waldorf pedagogy. The early childhood educational program provides a rich, experiential learning environment that is largely an extension of the richness of the home-life. A deep connection to nature will be supported through use of high quality, natural materials as well as seasonal studies and outdoor educational activities. Harmonious daily rhythms, seasonal stories, fairy tales from around the world and homelike activities provide opportunities to strengthen body and imagination. Finger knitting, sewing, play, stories and kitchen cooking and baking lay a solid groundwork for number concepts. Songs and circle games encourage cooperation and joyful friendships. A nature table and weekly walks heighten the child’s sense of awe and wonder in the natural world. Life-long habits of washing hands, table manners, social interaction and caring for the environment are established. This environment establishes the rhythmic foundation to support all future learning.