Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a typical day like at Running River?
We begin each day with a contemplative practice and class meeting to check in with the children and review our day. Each day has a schedule that combines academics, specials (art, P.E., dance, music, chores, class councils and electives). We hike on Fridays all year long (the K-1 class also hikes Wednesday mornings). On Friday mornings we start with an academic class and then do all school beautification where children take ownership of keeping our school organized, clean and cared for. We have a 30 minute all school lunch and 45 minute “open time” outdoors every day.
What this looks like in a weekly schedule is that every Monday is the same, every Tuesday is the same, and so forth. Academics take place in large time chunks…the older the children, the longer the time. We find that this kind of scheduling allows children time to get immersed in their studies instead of jumping so quickly from one topic to the next. They have time to immerse themselves in reading, writing and projects, to finish class work, and to not just get warmed up, but to really get some work done. The younger the children, the more they need breaks to play, move, socialize or vary their types of focus.
2. How do we evaluate student’s work?
Please visit our page on Assessments. We teach the children, starting in kindergarten, to use learning targets to set goals that they keep data on. They also work as a class to create rubrics to reflect on their learning. Children present their work both in parent conferences but also in public events, and they learn to show their work process, not just the results. Through our assessment process, keeping extensive portfolios of all their work, and following Common Core Standards, we let parents know through conferences three times a year, how their child is doing, and where they stand in comparison to students the same age and the same grade in the public schools.
Because we are a small school, we are able to meet each child where they are. Through individualized lessons and small working groups, we come to understand how each child learns and what they need to be successful in each academic subject area. We don’t just evaluate children through comparison, but in how they are working, how they improve and how they feel about their work. Through all of this, the students, parents and teachers set goals, working together as a team.
3. Do we accommodate special needs children or gifted children?
We can accommodate some special needs children and gifted children. In particular we have children who are "visual spatial" learners or dyslexic. We have a specialist on staff as well as work with a specialist who is from Denver but spends regular time at our school. We have both at our school. We meet with the parents and have them fill out a detailed questionnaire to assess if we might be the right fit. Then we have the child visit Running River. If we take a child with special needs, we make sure that we have consistent communication with the parents, a specific strategy in place, and we may do extra conferences during the year if we find it necessary. We also make it clear that the child may need extra support outside of school, such as tutoring.
4. How do we meet the needs of children in different grades in multi-age classrooms?
Our classes are small. The maximum in one class is 15. The teachers move between classrooms so that at high need times, there are two teachers. Multi-age classrooms allow children to learn at their own level, which builds confidence and mastery. For example, in math, a child can move into other math groups for different content areas, based on pre-assessment tests. The children are motivated to learn because they are invested, interested, and fully engaged as they work both as part of a team and on their own. They are constantly teaching and learning from each other, and they are also taught how to find answers to questions themselves, instead of depending on adults for help all the time. They are learning HOW to think and problems solve, which has a profound effect on the dynamics in the learning environment.
In the K-1 classroom there are group learning times for reading, writing, math and theme, but the children also get to pursue their individual (and group) interests. The focus in K-1 is both discovery and setting up the basic foundations in all academic subject areas.
Parents volunteer time in the classroom. This is scheduled at regular times, for instance once a week in math or reading. Besides theme/project time, there are also small math groups and reading groups for emergent readers. The extra adults are there to assist the children.
Another aspect of the multi-age classroom is the feeling of family, or the “village effect” as we call it. We have found that the children are very willing to play with children of all ages, and it expands their circle of friends. The younger children are more directly learning from the older children, and the older children tend to stay more empathetic towards the younger ones because there is more of a relationship on a daily basis.
5. How is your middle school different from the elementary school?
Since we are a small middle school, the students get to be very close friends. We are committed to helping these young adults develop healthy lifestyles, meaning an education in all the components of health: physical fitness; nutrition; an in-depth understanding of their bodies; clear, conscious, objective communication skills; contemplative practices; and lifelong organizational skills. We go on a 5-day camping trip in September, a hut trip in the winter, and a 3-6 day spring trip. Our 8th graders do a 6 day trip to Washington D.C. in April. They work to earn the money, and plan the itinerary to visit the places both of interest to them and related to their studies.
We believe that middle school students need every opportunity to use what they know and, at the same time, to be challenged to learn new things. We value their ability to collaborate, work, and contribute to society. We have found that meaningful, hands-on work integrates the different academic areas and brings out their unique individual skills in a way that builds confidence and real life experience.
6. How do children do socially in a small group?
They do very well. There is a lot of caring here. It is like an extended family. We have had past students tell us that it is one of the more important things they remember about school. When you are in a small group, you have a real need to learn how to work out problems with friends and understand children who are different than you. It is a great laboratory for developing healthy social skills. You can’t really run away from a problem, and we don’t accept exclusion as an answer. We really learn to work, to get down to causes of problems and to find solutions to get along. The kids learn a lot about sharing feelings, expressing needs, being listeners, compromise, empathy and working as a team to create a safe and supportive environment for everyone. Most children also participate in after school activities as well as have other friends outside of Running River.
7. How do children do who leave Running River to go into public school?
The answer to this question varies according to what age they leave. We do not agree that all children will learn to read or have all the writing skills stated in Common Core at the end of kindergarten. We have found that all children, unless diagnosed with a learning difference, will learn to read by the end of 2nd grade. Therefore, if children transfer after kindergarten or first grade, they may be labeled “behind” in a public school – or they may not. It depends on the child. We have seen too many students express no interest in reading (even when it is part of their daily curriculum) and then be reading full-on in the beginning or middle of second grade. You cannot rush brain development.
If a child stays with us at least through 5th grade, it is much more likely they will be at or above grade level, unless, again, there is a diagnosed learning difference. Click here to listen to high school and college students talk about their transition after Running River. Academically, they are usually ahead of their grade level from all the individualized attention. We stay in touch with children who leave; most of them end up on the honor roll in high school. Far more importantly, they are on the honor roll because they love learning.
All of the children at Running River have a love of learning and an ability to pursue information on topics they are excited about. They know how to ask questions and how to get “beneath the surface” and not just stop at simple facts. They know how to work and what quality work is. Socially, they are confident from the experiences of talking about their feelings and needs, expressing their opinions, helping to solve problems and being respected and valued for who they are and what they offer. They know how to make friends. They know how to go inside to find calm, to hear their own truth. They know how to advocate for themselves.
8. How do we use technology in the classroom?
We have computers in the middle school classrooms. The children use these for two purposes. One is to type a story or report . The other is to do research for projects or reports. We also use Khan Academy for math. In all classes our focus is experience first and then conceptual learning.
9. Do we have scholarships?
We do offer financial assistance. This is mainly applied for in the Spring for the following year, but can also be applied for at other times.
10. Are we affiliated with the New Church of Boulder Valley (where we are located)? Are we affiliated with any group?
We are not affiliated with the church or any other group. We are an independent, non-profit school without any affiliation. Our philosophy springs from our experiences, our studies and years of working with children.