1. What is a typical day like at Running River?
We start every day with a contemplative practice for the whole school. This includes Yoga, music listening, a tea ceremony and story telling. After that, we return to our classrooms. Running River focuses the day around theme inquiry and projects, where all academic subjects are integrated into an in-depth study. In addition, we have small group literature groups and math groups. We have an art teacher on staff, and art is integrated into all subjects. We have our specialists in music, dance and P.E. come once a week. We hike once a week all year long. We have a 45 minute “open time” every day. We hold all school “councils” every week, to solve problems and discuss school wide issues. We also hold councils in each classrooms where children share feelings, learn how to give and receive feedback and come up with solutions for any problems going on in the classroom.
What this looks like in a weekly schedule, is that every Monday is the same, every Tuesday and so forth. 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. Our children know that when it is a scheduled reading class, that for at least 30-45 minutes of that time, they can dive into a book or books, depending on the age. They have time to complete projects, to finish class work, and to not just get warmed up, but to really get some work done.
2. How do we evaluate student’s work?
We do not do testing. Children are given individualized assessment tests by their teachers for reading and math twice a year. Through this process, keeping extensive portfolios of all their work, and looking at the Boulder Valley School 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. However, we are much more interested in how children show what they know through their work on projects, both collaborative and individual. For every unit of inquiry there are presentations where the children have to explain and demonstrate what they have learned. This is in second grade on up.
3. Do we accommodate special needs children or gifted children?
We can accommodate some special needs children and gifted children. We have both at our school. Before we take any child, we have them come to visit the school and we spend time with the parents to make sure we are the right fit and that we CAN meet every child’s needs. 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.
4. How do we meet the needs of children in different grades in multi-age classrooms?
Our classes are still small. The maximum in one class is 15. The teachers move between classrooms so that at high need times, there are two teachers. 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 al 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 more 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.
Every family volunteers time in the classroom. This is most often scheduled at regular times, for instance once a week in math or reading. Besides theme/project time, there are also small math groups, literature circles and private language arts times (such as working on the school magazine). The extra adults are there to assist the children. In this way, every child is working at their own level.
Another aspect of the muli-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 empathic 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?
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 come to 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. We all also work on communication through the use of Non-Violent Communication and school councils.
6. How do children do socially in a small group?
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 life long 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. In April 2010 we went to Washington D.C. for 6 days.
We believe that middle school students need every opportunity to use what they know at the same time they are being 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.
7. How do children do who leave Running River to go into public school?
They do very well. Academically, they are usually ahead of their grade level from all the individualized attention. We stay in touch with children who leave and know that most of them have ended up on the honor roll in middle schools. They 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 all the upper grade classrooms. The children use these for two purposes. One is to type a story or report once it is written and edited. The other is to do research for projects or reports. In the middle school the children provide their own chromebooks. 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 have 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.