At Monarch Community School we believe that for a school to operate effectively, its staff, parents, and students need to have a shared educational philosophy. We believe that learning is a lifelong process, that we are all learners, (students, teachers, and parents alike), and that there are developmental stages of social and academic maturity. People learn best from hands-on experiences both individually and in multi-age groups. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must feel safe and cared for in order to develop to our fullest potential.
At Monarch, we believe that learning happens best when we are all working together, (students, teachers, and parents), to develop a rich learning environment spanning home, school, and the greater community. We are committed to providing a developmentally appropriate learning environment in which students are 'constructing' their own knowledge connected to their real lives and building upon their prior experiences. We believe that students learn best when they are involved and engaged in purposeful learning in which they have:
- Ownership and responsibility
- A balance of choice and direction, experience and practice
- Knowledgeable guides (adults, parents, mentor students)
At Monarch, we nurture a culture of respect, where each individual works toward his or her personal best both academically and socially.
What follows are descriptions of the Guiding Principles and Practices that are rooted in our assumptions about learning and bring our philosophy to life. They are generally broken down into three component areas: 1) Social-Emotional Curriculum, 2) Academic (cognitive) Curriculum, and 3) Shared Governance/Community Relationships.
The social-emotional curriculum is the foundation of our program. It is based on our beliefs about what is important for the social and emotional functioning of the school community. Our first and foremost goal is to create a healthy environment of mutual respect and dignity for both children and adults. This foundation gives the academic curriculum a place to root itself and grow. To that end, we address several overall areas of social-emotional development:
Intrapersonal skills: he ability to understand personal emotions and to use that understanding to develop self-discipline and self-control and to learn from experiences.
- We work toward helping young people develop into empowered, compassionate beings.
- We support students in developing self-awareness so they can use their personal power to make choices that influence what happens to them as individuals and the community as a whole.
- We create curriculum that develops self-esteem, sense of competence and desire to learn.
Interpersonal skills: the ability to work with others through listening, communicating, cooperating, negotiating, sharing and empathizing.
- Spending time together in mixed-age groupings builds community and fosters a caring, closer-knit community.
- We need to feel safe and included in order to develop to our fullest potential. Students and adults need to feel that they contribute in meaningful ways and are needed.
- All students and adults are capable people working toward their personal best.
- We are all working toward being the best communicators and problem solvers we can be.
Systemic skills: the ability to respond to the limits and consequences of every day life with responsibility, adaptability, flexibility and integrity.
- We nurture tolerance, social justice, and personal responsibility.
- We encourage students to take risks. We see making mistakes as an important part of social emotional development and learning.
- We guide students toward developing self-motivation and self-direction in social and academic pursuits.
- We lead students toward a sense of industry and competence, in both work and play.
Judgment skills: the ability to develop wisdom and evaluate situations according to appropriate values.
- We all have personal power that we can use to make good choices and influence what happens to our community and us.
- We all work toward understanding how our behavior affects others, our community and the greater community.
- Students and adults need to have many opportunities to improve their communication and problem solving skills through daily practice.
- As students grow, we expect them to take on more responsibility for themselves, others and the community.
Adults in the community accept responsibility for aiding and guiding students in their social emotional growth.
- Adults role model the same open communication skills and problem solving techniques they wish students to use with each other in their behavior with other adults.
- Adults are facilitators who direct children toward pro-social behaviors.
- The staff shares a commitment to providing kind, firm behavior agreements and consequences.
- Staff works collaboratively on both academic and social emotional issues.
- Reading Buddies are used to develop and promote multi-age peer interactions, as are frequent cooperative, small group projects.
- Our School Bill of Rights is used as a guide for behavior. A school-wide behavior agreement based on this is discussed and signed by all families when the year starts. Both are referenced frequently throughout the year.
- Class meetings, all school community meetings, student leadership team and staff meetings are all used as places to problem solve and discuss issues. They also serve to develop leadership skills and shared responsibility for our school community.
- We all work to take responsibility and care for our community, school, materials and each other through classroom and school wide jobs.
- Fun days, field trips, and learning celebrations are used to build community, share and celebrate.
- Have a shared language for problem solving and, create clear and reasonable consequences when needed.
- The social activism and community service components of our program is developed.
- We want to support and develop the economic, ethnic, and language diversity of our community.
- Positive Discipline skills training for staff and parents is developed.
Practices we are working toward
- Developing school-wide tolerance and anti-bullying strategies and education.
- Providing more transparency in classroom configurations.
The Academic (Cognitive) Curriculum
With a strong and stable social-emotional curriculum as a foundation, the academic curriculum offers the students the framework to stretch themselves intellectually. Over the years at Monarch students progress from learning skills, to developing and mastering these skills and then applying them. Through experiential learning they broaden and deepen their understanding of themselves and the world around them.
Teaching and facilitating: Developmentally appropriate practice focuses on taking students from where they are and guiding them towards achieving their full potential. Developmentally appropriate practice is rooted in constructivist theory which is based on the idea that learning is most meaningful when based upon prior experience and connected to real life. Adults in a constructivist classroom scaffold student learning supporting students in stretching beyond their comfort zone and challenging them to reach beyond their current understandings. Engaging curriculum strategies that incorporate the Multiple Intelligences (linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and ecological) are essential.
Students are grouped in a variety of heterogeneous and homogenous groupings, with a low student to adult ratio. Adults and student mentors are integral to each student's success, as they assist the students in creating goals, taking responsibility for and reflecting upon their own learning.
Curricular planning: We have created a thematic multi-year curricular plan, that is used school-wide. WE use "backward planning" (Understanding by Design)methods to design curriculum and establish essential questions that guide thematic learning. Basic skills and state standards are integrated into this plan as appropriate. Input to the curriculum comes from staff, students, and parents. The staff engages in training to support the process and refine their craft. Teachers have individual and planning time in which they prepare the environment for learning, design curriculum, plan lessons, and coordinate instruction.
Assessment and accountability: Our assessment system is based on portfolios that contain student work samples, assessments and rubrics that each student maintains throughout their time at Monarch. We utilize authentic assessment such as reflection on the student's own learning, self-evaluation, teacher observation, basic skills assessment (to inform instruction), and provide ongoing progress information for parents as well as the greater community. Student portfolios, in combination with the assessment practices, give a balanced, authentic representation of the students' learning. Exit criteria presentations are the culminating rite of passage where students exhibit accountability for their learning over their years at Monarch.
- Our math, reading and writing workshops offer differentiated instruction, which is designed to take advantage of small, ability-based, multi-age, group instruction.
- Thematic centers and activities offer student opportunities for student- or teacher-selected, adult- or self-directed activities.
- We offer elective courses that are self-selected and led by teachers, parents and other community volunteers and reflect the instructor's interests.
- We offer choice time (exploration, play, and creativity), projects and learning centers.
- We provide inquiry-based, thematic, integrated curriculum school wide.
- We integrate the Habits of Mind and Exit Criteria expectations throughout the students' years at Monarch.
- We provide access to art, music, and P.E.
- Students have opportunities for multi-age social and academic activities.
- Teachers, students and parents collaborate to generate the students' learning goals.
- Teachers connect lesson planning with assessments.
- We maintain portfolios of select student work and assessments.
- Parent conferences occur twice a year (more often if needed) to keep parents informed of students' achievements and needs. At least one of these conferences is student led.
- Yearly progress reports and conference records are maintained.
- We provide training opportunities for our in-class adult community in order to have everyone (staff and volunteers) connected and working together in the best academic interests of the students.
- We have a clearly defined parent participation component that supports our academic goals.
Practices we are working toward
- Adding additional components to the student portfolios, including reflections and observations, and project-specific rubrics.
- More functionally integrating the portfolios into the students' learning process by using developmental rubrics in each subject area.
- Standardizing and formalizing the assessment components of our academic program, including development of school-wide formative assessments.
- Improving our ability to generate and evaluate clear academic and social goals that are both teacher and student initiated and measurable.
- Creating intervention support opportunities for struggling students.
Shared Governance/Community Relationships
In order for the social emotional and academic components to flourish many different systems and activities must function behind the scenes. We are a small, public school with limited funding. In order to provide the variety of education options and small group instruction we feel is critical to student learning we need a committed parent community who are highly involved in the education of our students and the running of our school. At Monarch it really does take the whole village to raise a child.
- We share a community-wide vision and philosophy. We understand that this philosophy develops, grows, and changes over time, but we work to maintain its focus.
- We are a small, family oriented, cooperative community that relies on dependable parent participation. We offer equal access to our program regardless of in-district address, ability, personal connections, and language. All families are welcome.
- We hope to instill a sense of social responsibility, ecological awareness and an understanding of the deep connection between the inner life of people and the surrounding environment.
- We recognize the necessary relationship between school and community. We strive to maintain a positive image in the community through open communication. We work to build and maintain positive relationships with the community (district, S.C., etc.), other schools, other similar schools, other teachers, etc.
- All levels (students, parents, and staff) participate in governance of the school.
Many of these practices apply to more than one principle. The following bullet points are grouped according to the primary constituency they concern.
Monarch Community School
- Courses — weekly, parent or volunteer led courses whose focus is team building and social ease among multi-age members.
- Field trips — monthly school-wide and/or core group trips related to current curricular theme.
- Parent Participation Agreement — all families provide consistent classroom assistance as well as participate in out-of-classroom projects.
- Student Leadership Team — plans and presides at events at and for school, and with the outside community.
- Parent meetings — Classroom, committee, emergency, community building, planning, and parent education/training.
- Regular class meetings, all-school weekly meetings
- Prompt response to parent concerns.
- Open, consistent communication between school and home (newsletter, phone tree, email, buddies, classroom coordinators, weekly school bulletins, one-on-one conferencing).
- Open enrollment
- Adhere to district mandates and policies
- Maintain positive relationship with the district
- Open to visits (by invitation) from district and school board
- Maintain positive relationship with teachers' and certified employees' unions
- Santa Cruz Education Foundation
- Site Council — oversees categorical funds, annual Site Plan/Single Plan for Student Achievement, when funds are available
- Consider state standards in curriculum planning
- Maintain positive relationship with state
- Adhere to Ed code and IEP rules, including instructional minutes, staffing ratios, etc.
- Advocate for increased revenues
- Guest speakers who share their experiences
- Field trips
- School wide projects
Practices we are working toward
- Increasing parent participation
- Increasing fundraising including grant writing
- Develop school wide and/or group specific project focused on community service and social justice
- Clarify and develop role of student leadership team
- Koetzsch, R. (1997). The Parents' guide to alternatives in education. Boston, MA: Shambala.
- Nelson, J., Lott, L., & Glenn, S. (2000). Positive discipline in the classroom: Developing mutual respect, cooperation and responsibility in your classroom.Roseville, CA: Prima Publishers.
- Rogoff, B., Goodman Turkanis, C., & Bartlett, L. (2001). Learning together: Children and adults in a school community. Oxford; New York: Oxford Univ. Press.