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Learning happens everywhere: at school, at home, out in the world. At Phoenix, we encourage and engage students beyond the four walls of our school, fostering a mindset of curiosity and interest and an environment of exploring and questioning at school that weaves learning and life experiences together. A key component of the Phoenix education is helping children understand that their learning is a lifelong process that happens everywhere they go.
We work to help the students see school as being part of the community, country, and world. In practice, this means leaving the school frequently and easily when the need or opportunity arises and welcoming outside experts and community members. Within the school, students are organized in mixed-age bands and are encouraged to pursue projects with partners of different ages, genders, and skill levels.
At Phoenix, we strive for a balance of flexibility and structure that are characteristic of a lab. To create the optimal learning conditions for students, we start with a clear vision of the learner. Phoenix personalized, whole-child approach to education prepares students to navigate their way in a rapidly changing world, as they develop and demonstrate competency in key milestones for academic domains as well as critical habits.
Phoenix students reach, stretch, try, work hard, fail, fight back, succeed and celebrate. The supportive school community provides an avenue for students to face tough intellectual, physical, and social challenges and to achieve success and confidence.
Students at The Phoenix School are expected to reach as far as they can, and then stretch farther still in order to understand who they are, what they are capable of, and what they need in order to achieve excellence. The whole school community is there to support their challenges and celebrate their successes.
Preparing Students for the 21st Century and Beyond
The Phoenix School provides a well-rounded and challenging curriculum, individualized attention, small classes, values, discipline, a safe environment and parent involvement in their child’s education. Students are guided through their education by experienced, committed faculty, with diverse backgrounds who support and challenge the students on their educational journey.
Come see a 21st century curriculum in action at The Phoenix School:
The Phoenix School:
- is a Small School with big ideas and opportunities
- is a One-World Classroom, thinking globally, acting locally
- believes the World is Our Campus
- believes the arts are integral and everywhere
- is a K-8 School Community in one, open room
- begins leadership and collaboration opportunities beginning in Kindergarten
- believes that every student has a unique learning map that drives their curriculum
- Multi-age is mutually beneficial for both younger and older students
- Student voices are heard, and opinions are respected
- Reflections Enhance Thinking
A Small School, Big Opportunities
In a small school there is greater flexibility for learning opportunities. Students are not governed by the bell, but by their creative investigation. The Phoenix School curriculum in interdimensional and cross cutting where subjects are woven into the educational pathway where they fit, allowing the curriculum to follow a student’s, a group’s or the whole school’s interest. Having daily flexibility in the schedule that changes depending on events helps students learn how to handle the unexpected, think on their feet, be adaptable to change, problem solve, and enjoy the surprises that inevitably come up. Yes, Phoenix is smaller than what many might consider a ’small school,’ but that only heightens the advantages.
A small school:
- Empowers students to take an active role in their own education, working side-by-side with peers, students of different ages, teachers.
- Allows students and teachers to build strong personal relationships that support learning, risk-taking, and personal growth, relationships that grow stronger over time as a student moves through the school, not having to change teachers every year.
- Is a place where everyone knows one another, throughout the grade bands. This builds a solid school community that supports the struggles and celebrates the successes of every person as well as gives each member a feeling of belonging.
- Allows teachers to be on top of situations that in a larger school might lead to bullying or personal conflicts.
- Parents are usually more actively involved in their child’s education and in contributing their time and expertise in ways that enrich the school.
- Asks that parents to be more actively involved in their child’s education, perhaps by contributing their time and expertise in ways that enrich the school.
The World is Our Campus
Our home base in downtown Salem is just that — our home base. Rather than a campus that provides all the facilities needed for the curriculum, we have chosen to integrate the world around us, near and far, into our campus.
The Arts are Everywhere
- “How do you produce such amazing artists when you don’t have art classes or an art studio?”
- “How in the world did you create that performance in four days without a script and with every student having a part?”
- “How do you interest kids in classical music?”
Teachers integrate the arts into the total curriculum rather than segregate them in special rooms. We view them as much more than a means of expression, although that is certainly one important aspect of an arts curriculum. They are also a means for assessment. The child who drew a picture of a mill girl in the looms room with an electric light bulb over her head had missed the fact that the mills were powered by water. They are also a means of communication. “A picture is worth a thousand words when taking notes.,” we often say. They are an essential vehicle for documenting information, especially for right brain learners who process information better through drawing than words.
A K-8 School Community in One Room
In one large space divided into smaller learning areas full of books, materials, and technology, students of all ages explore, learn, and discover. The arrangement of the room allows them to utilize whatever tools for learning they need and they don’t have to wait to go to the Library or Computer Lab, to the Art or Music Room in order to be able to access the equipment and materials. This design allows them to be more independent in the use of the space, knowing where to find what they need and where to put it back when finished with it. Here students in grades Kindergarten through grade 8 work and learn together — sometimes independently, sometimes in partners or in teams, sometimes they might be divided by age, sometimes by ability, sometimes working altogether. Each experience has a purpose, but in the end, what results is a strong community of learners who understand one another. This is what allows us to travel safely by foot, bus, train, subway, and plane to firsthand learning experiences beyond the classroom walls.
Leadership and Collaboration Begins in Kindergarten
- ” I’ll show you where the Geo-strips are. I used them yesterday.”
- “Let’s figure that out together.”
These are typical comments that five-year olds have been heard to say as they try to find a role for themselves in a busy K-8 schoolroom. This allows them to be open to the small steps that begin leadership and collaboration. As they grow into 3rd-5th grades they become ‘packing partners’ responsible for a K-2 partner at the beginning of the day and end of the day. They might be their reading partner or a leader of a K-5 project learning team. By the time students are at the upper end of the school, they are ‘team leaders,’ teachers of the after-school courses, coordinators of all-school teams and for an all-school problem-solving project. By 8th grade, we expect them to be the leaders of the School — our representatives to the local community, should they choose to accept that responsibility.
Learning Maps Vary
At Phoenix, we recognize that everyone is different. Each comes with his/her own learning map developed by the range of experiences each has had. They are not all in the same place in their learning, even at the same age, so the most effective teaching approach is not to give everyone the same information at the same time, up in front of the group. At Phoenix where teachers are facilitators, we view our job as that of opening many different doors for different students. With our guidance, each must learn what best fits his/her needs at a given point in time and learn the best approach for accessing it just as the teachers learn what works best with individual students. The daily and frequent dialoguing that goes on between student and teachers as they “check-in” throughout the day is probably the single most important vehicle for learning and teaching that goes on at Phoenix because here students reflect on their work, teachers asks questions to help clarify what was meant, new directions might be given or a mini-lesson to tidy up a specific skill or a new challenge presented. Gone are the days when students receive a grade and that’s that. At Phoenix we follow most pieces of work to its end–one that reflects the abilities of each child, not the same expectation for everyone.
Younger Kids Benefit from Older Kids’ Advice
The opportunity for older students to see where they have come from and for young students to see where they are going is an integral part of the process of building self-esteem and empathy for others for an older student to stop by a younger student struggling over an academic project and hear them say, “Don’t worry. Just stick with it. It will get better. I know. It happened to me too.” makes much more of an impression than the support given by a teacher, for the younger student could not imagine that competent 8th grader even struggled. It often is an important recognition on the part of the older student that they had struggled, worked hard, met the challenge, and moved on to the next.
Kids Make a Difference
Learning the importance of giving back to one’s community as well as the satisfaction one feels for doing something for someone else is an integral part of our curriculum as it is in many other schools. We started the first Early Act Club, a community service club for elementary school students, in New England, sponsored by the Salem Rotary Club. When we began this relationship, we were one of 24 clubs in the world. What makes it different is that the students are the club: they are the ones that evaluate projects, organize them, and carry them out. They run the meetings, bring up ideas for a vote, and involve the whole school.
Students provide service within the:
- School (helping someone else, being a reading partner),
- Local community (collecting items for a Joy Toy Drive. the NorthEast Animal Shelter, the Crombie St. Shelter for the Homeless, etc.),
- World (donating money to charities of their choice).
Each experience makes a difference in different ways, but one of the most special aspects is making the decision together as a school for where to send their donation money. One year they heard about different needs in the community and world from local charities and area philanthropists, then voted on their choices. Another time the club’s officers evaluated charities and presented a proposal to the rest of the school for consideration. The ensuing discussion was memorable. Every dollar was carefully considered in terms of which would make the most difference, and their final decisions met everyone’s satisfaction, K-8.
Reflection Enhances Thinking
Part of being a good thinker is the ability to reflect on one’s thinking and learning. Metacognition is a $100 word that students at Phoenix love to use to describe the reflections they write or share with a teacher at the beginning, middle, and end of all important pieces of work. Reading or listening to the students describe what they liked best about the work, or how they could make it more challenging, or how did their current discoveries connect with previous work, always including the word “because”.
WORLD AS CAMPUS
In the Neighborhood
Community service has always been an important part of the Phoenix experience. The school’s presence in Salem’s downtown area and its flexible curriculum have positioned the Phoenix to respond to many opportunities in support of the local community. Phoenix participates in Salem’s annual Haunted Happenings by partnering with Creative Salem to provide a children’s costume parade and party for young children in our community, joins with the Salem Rotary through EarlyAct, a kid-version of Rotary, to raise funds and contribute to local and global causes, helping people and animals in need.
Around the World
In early spring, students in Upper School embark on a travel study trip to a location of geological, historical, cultural and/or scientific significance. This week-long adventure has taken students to the Florida Everglades, Mammoth Cave, Carlsbad Caverns, Crow Canyon in Colorado, Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Tortola in the British West Indies, the Netherlands and even Italy!
CHALLENGE BASED LEARNING
Project-based learning is a large part of the Phoenix curriculum, where students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem or challenge. What’s unique about the Phoenix School is that each of the students’ work, even day-to-day, is done in the context of multi-age teams. This provides abundant opportunities for all students to understand and practice leadership, teamwork, and respect for all ages, genders, and personalities. Students form groups every week to address assignments in subjects such as Science, Art, with members from K-2, 3-5, and 6-8, and everyone’s input is valued. All students participate in developing the ideas, dialogue, costumes, and sets, as well as acting the show out for the Phoenix Community on stage.