Q: How do you determine first grade readiness?
A: The Early childhood teachers carefully observe and interact with each child over the course of the last year of kindergarten and evaluate readiness based on a multiplicity of factors such as physical and emotional maturity, fine and gross motor skills, and hand-eye coordination. We do not have a date cut-off, but in general we expect that children will likely have just turned 7, or be turning 7 in the fall or winter of their first grade year.
Q: What is The Garden School's approach to homework?
A: We do not assign homework in kindergarten or the early grades. Research has shown that homework is detrimental to student engagement and family time for young children, but can genuinely support a student's school performance in middle school. Therefore, depending on the teacher and the class, occasional small homework assignments might begin in third grade so that students develop responsibility, organizational skills, and good habits. Homework is assigned for specific purposes: to review and reinforce class work; to assist in developing organizational skills and self-discipline; to allow the students to exercise inner creativity and deepen thought; and to bring subjects such as music into the home and daily life. Students only receive homework they can do themselves.
Q: What is your approach to classroom discipline?
A: Approaches to discipline are varied and relate directly to the age of the child and any unique needs that child has. Parents are often surprised at how cooperative and fluid our classes are because the age-appropriate curriculum, the artistic activities, and the amount of movement in the day all help to keep students engaged in their learning. When needed, a teacher meets with parents to discuss discipline issues and formulate a plan. We do not use corporal punishment or coercion; under no circumstances would a child ever be intentionally hurt or humiliated at The Garden School.
Q: Is The Garden School religiously affiliated to Emerson Unitarian Universalist Congregation or any other organization?
A: No. The Garden School is a secular school that does not embrace or promote any specific religious doctrine. Our students come from a wide range of religious and spiritual interests and backgrounds, and we seek to educate students about cultures and religions from around the world.
Q: What about diversity?
A: The Garden School is committed to supporting inclusion and diversity in the academic, social, and communal makeup of the school's faculty, staff, parent, and student body. We believe that diversity of experience and community strengthens the school as an institution as well as individual students' world perspectives. The Earnest Everett Just award is a partial scholarship for students who demonstrate scientific engagement and curiosity and who contribute to a student body that more closely represents the cultural and ethnic diversity of our world.
Q: How are parents involved at The Garden School?
A: Parents are a vital part of our school. They participate on one of our three committees and the Board of Trustees, help organize festivals, fundraising events, and class trips, and participate in parent education classes. Opportunities abound for parents to contribute their unique skills and energy to the school community through volunteering.
Q: What are class sizes?
A: Early childhood classes maintain a 1:6 teacher ratio. Depending on the class and the day, there may be between one and three teachers in each class. In the grades, classes are limited to 14 students in each class, with certain expansion classes split or combined depending on the subject.
Q: How do your students perform on standardized tests?
A: Standardized testing is not an accurate or complete reflection of a student's wisdom, knowledge, mental flexibility, or ability to learn. Because of this, our curriculum does not focus on nor require our students to study standardized test taking preparation.
Q: How do you measure student progress?
A: Students are assessed through their knowledge and skill in recounting the content of the portfolios they create over the course of the year. They are assessed both as individuals and as a part of their class. Beginning in third or fourth grade, spelling tests, math quizzes, book reports, and special projects may be assigned and evaluated by the class teacher. From fourth grade on, the teacher assesses the students in the writing of their own compositions and, starting in sixth grade, in the integration of science experiment write-ups. Along with this, ongoing class participation and portfolio assessments provide an opportunity for evaluation. Parent evenings are held periodically to discuss class progress, and parent teacher conferences are held to discuss individual student progress. Finally, a formal written narrative assessment is sent home at the end of the year.
Q: How do you work with gifted students?
A: We value all expressions of humanity and we see every child as gifted in his or her own unique way, to be appreciated for both strengths and weaknesses. Our approach emphasizes balance in the three distinct ways that human beings relate to the world: through thinking, through the life of the emotions, and through physical activity. In the curriculum, all three aspects are cultivated. Although our methodology is such that all children are taught the same curriculum, a child who is gifted in certain areas may go deeper or do more advanced work within the general classroom setting.
Q: What help is available for remedial work?
A: We believe that classes work best when they are composed of diverse personalities, learning styles, and work paces. Waldorf schools use movement, art (color, form, and music), the care and cultivation of the senses, multifaceted approaches to learning, interdisciplinary integration, teacher and curriculum consistence, and individual pacing within a highly refined child development psychology. It is important to note that a central guiding principal of the Waldorf pedagogy that inspires our approach is that every child is a unique being with unique gifts. Thus individuality and social responsibility are recognized and honored. These and many other innovative means serve the variety of students found in the population today. These approaches might serve a child with learning differences well, but only in a class with other learning styles and with a strong "center" of students who move the lessons forward academically and artistically. The teacher, working with colleagues and parents, must determine whether a particular student can be well served. When a child's needs extend beyond the range of our regular program, we might recommend or require outside tutoring or consultation.
Q: Why do you discourage TV, movies, and electronic games at home?
A: The reasons for this have as more to do with the physical and psychological effects of the medium on the developing child, so the "educational" quality of programming is generally not considered to be a redeeming factor. We believe the research that shows that media exposure, especially in the early years, seriously hampers the development of the child's imagination -- a faculty which is central to the healthy development of the intellect. Electronic media works against the healthy development of sound thinking and weakens a child’s ability to deal with reality. Students accustomed to passively receiving impressions have difficulty making the inner effort necessary to sustain an imaginative train of thought or to follow a complicated mathematical process. We would like our students to view the world through their own eyes, rather than through the lens of someone else’s camera. By delaying a child’s exposure to mass electronic media until the student’s will and feeling life have reached a certain level of maturity, we hope to encourage an enlightened, inquiry-based relationship to technology.
While we know that most families have some media as part of the home experience, we encourage families to significantly limit or discontinue exposure to television, movies, video games, computers and other entertainment media. At the very minimum, we expect families to maintain a no-media policy during the school week with the exception of students completing foreign language homework. As students get older, media is introduced and included in the school curriculum as an adjunct to the learning process.
We acknowledge that this can be a difficult transition, especially if the student has had a lot of media interaction prior to Waldorf school attendance. The school, and the families in our community, support new families making this transition. New students have an easier time acclimating to this policy when they experience it as the status quo expectation of our community.
Q: How are personality conflicts between students and teachers handled?
A: This is a very common concern among parents when they first hear about our class teacher model in which the teacher "loops" with the class from first through eighth grades. However, in practice, the situation is very rare. Given the sort of person who is motivated to become a Waldorf teacher, incompatibility with a child is infrequent: understanding the child's needs and temperament is central to the teacher's role and training. If problems of this sort should occur, the faculty as a whole would work with the teacher and the family to determine and undertake whatever corrective action would be in the best interests of the child and of the class.
Q: What if my child needs to transfer to public school in the future? Will they be successful?
A: Generally, transitions to public schools are not problematical when they can be anticipated in advance. Your child's teacher will work with you to identify any gaps or discrepancies in experience that may need to be addressed in order to make your child's transition as smooth as possible.
Q: What financial aid is available?
A: We strongly believe that finances should not prevent the enrollment of a child whose family is otherwise a good fit for our community. Limited financial assistance is available, and we are working hard to expand opportunities for need- and merit-based financial assistance in the future. To apply for financial aid, a family must complete the Application for Tuition Assistance, which is processed by a third party who makes the determination on the allocation of financial aid dollars. The Earnest Everett Just award is a partial scholarship for students who demonstrate scientific engagement and curiosity and who contribute to a student body that more closely represents the cultural and ethnic diversity of our world.