ideal school Ben could hardly sleep. Tomorrow would be the start of a whole new adventure and he couldn’t wait for it to begin. He’d already had quite an adventure in the last few months. He had gone fishing for the first time and that fishing trip led him to learn a great deal about fish and the environment. He had a curious mind and always wanted to learn about what he saw. For example, he learned about how fog forms over a lake in the early morning. He learned about the plants that grew in the lake. And he learned quite a bit about different fish species. In some ways, the new adventure that was about to start would be an extension of his fishing adventure. But he knew from experience that the new adventure would be so much more. Ben’s mind simply refused to stop imagining all the wonders this new adventure would bring. Tomorrow the new school year would start. It would be his third year of school.

Ben got up early in the morning, long before he needed to, but he had been too excited to sleep. He hurriedly ate breakfast and got to the bus top ten minutes earlier than usual. But finally he was at school. He wondered if he’d make new friends this year. Kids moved around a lot so there was always a chance to make new friends. Like all the kids in school, he was assigned a homeroom, but kids didn’t spend that much time in their home rooms. It was in the homeroom that kids would sign up for the wings of the school where they wanted to spend time during the week. They could sign up for more than a week, but not more than two weeks at one time. Ben planned to spend time in the Science Wing this week where he could share what he had learned about fish, and the plants in the lake, and the fog over the lake.

Ben wished his homeroom were in the science wing of the school. But last year, he had wished his homeroom had been in the social studies wing. (He had become quite interested in history after a visit to a history museum.) Ben knew it didn’t really matter; he wouldn’t spend much time in homeroom. Children were encouraged to create a weekly study plan. First year kids need more help with this since they weren’t familiar with school, but third year students knew what to do. Ben knew that he’d have to spend some time in every wing throughout the year, but he could mostly pick when and how much time he wanted to spend in each wing. Sometimes, there might be a conflict when too many kids wanted to be in the same wing at the same time, so he might not get his first or even second choice, but he’d get there eventually. He just really hoped he got his first choice this time!

All the wings are really fun and exciting. Students can learn as much as they want about any subject. There are, of course, some basics that every student is expected to learn, but they can learn them at any time. Even learning to read doesn’t have to be done first. Some kids do come to school already knowing how to read, so they don’t need to participate in any learning-to-read activities. And some kids aren’t ready to read until they’ve been in school for a while. Those kids can still learn plenty, though. They can listen to audio books and then talk about what they had read. They can even work on projects with other kids who can read since they gain knowledge from listening and watching. If they want to write something, they can use speech-to-text software.

The Language Wing is a pretty big wing since it includes an area devoted to learning to read. And everyone eventually has to learn to read. All first year students are automatically scheduled to spend time in the learning-to-read area. Some kids just don’t get it right away, though. And that’s okay. No one sees the point of struggling with a task a brain isn’t ready for. Kids who haven’t learned to read sometime during their first year are automatically scheduled again to spend time in the learning-to-read area. It’s okay if they are with younger kids. No one thinks anything of kids of different ages being together. Any grouping is based more on interest and ability, not age.

The Math Wing works in a similar way. All first year students are scheduled to spend time learning math basics. But they can learn at their own pace. If they aren’t ready for multiplication when they are 8 years old, then they just move on to something else that they are ready for and are interested in. When they are ready, they can go back to the lessons on multiplication or whatever math concept they haven’t yet learned. Interestingly, students often go back to learn something when not knowing it holds them back from learning something they are interested in. For example, students who passed up math to work on science eventually realize that they need some more math than they have. That gives them the motivation to learn it.

Kids who come to school already knowing how to read or who pick it up quickly move on to read any books they are interested in. They can choose from a list of books to read and can form discussion groups with other kids who are interested in the same book. They also have an option of choosing a book not on the list, although eventually they really are expected to read at least some of the books on the list. It didn’t matter how old the kids are. As long as a student can understand what he reads, no one stops him from reading more and more advanced books. The same is true for math. Some kids come to school already knowing basic math. They can add, subtract and multiply. No one stops those students from learning more advanced math. Kids simply go to their areas of interest in the various wings.

Sometimes kids go to the “Individual Learning” area. Each wing has such an area. This is an area where kids can get help with something giving them trouble. For some kids it’s reading. For other kids it’s math. And for still others it might be history. But it’s unusual for a kid to get through school, even one year of school, without making some use of this area. After all, since kids can advance as far as they like in any subject, they are likely to encounter a roadblock at some point. While it’s mostly teachers helping kids in these already, it’s not unusual to see kids there ready to help other kids. Since everyone goes to the Individual Learning areas at some point or another, no one thinks anything about it. There is no stigma attached to seeking help. In fact, it is more likely that other kids would wonder why a kid never went there. Doesn’t that kid want to advance to learn more and more challenging material?

One of Ben’s favorite activities in school is the lectures. The lectures are held in one of the small lecture halls and they are open to all kids, whether they are first year or fifth year or ninth year. Teachers in different disciplines will lecture on a specific topic, like “What Led to the Revolutionary War?” or “The Golden Ratio in Nature.” A few lectures will be offered each week, but they are recorded so that if students miss one, they can watch it later. Quite often a group of students will choose to watch it together. It’s unusual for a group of students to watch them at home if they don’t have time to watch at school. The lectures often give Ben – and other students – much to think about and can lead them to do more reading on the topic. The school library has plenty of books, but there is also access to digital books since the library can fit only so many hard copies in it. Then they might write a paper about it in the Language Wing. They can also go to any of the wings to pursue the same topic in different ways. That way they are able to see how all subjects are connected to one another.

Because the wings are places of such enthusiastic hands-on learning, they tend to be rather noisy places. Thankfully, the school has some “Talk-Free Zones” (TFZ). These zones are places where kids can go to read, to plan, or just to think. No talking is allowed in zones either. For introverts like Ben, these TFZs are a real blessing. He loves learning and talking to others about what he has learned, but after a while, it can make him feel exhausted. He can also think about a project he wants to work on or a paper he wants to write, something he finds hard to do when the environment is noisy. No one thinks he’s weird because he wants to spend time alone to think. Individual differences are respected.

The school doesn’t ignore the arts either. There is an Art Wing and a Music Wing, too. All the kids are encouraged to spend time in these wings, even if art and music aren’t among their primary interests. The school’s philosophy on this – and most everything really – is that if you aren’t exposed to it, how do you know whether or not you like it? Kids are also encouraged to make connections between music and art and other subjects. What’s the connection between music and math, for example? And they are encouraged to be creative and take risks. Who cares if the grass a student paints is blue? Instead of telling students that grass is green, not blue, a teacher might ask the student what it means for the grass to be blue. And the question isn’t directed only to the painter, but to the whole class.

Socialization isn’t much of a problem either. Since kids can associate with any other kids, they are less likely to be frustrated. Kids tend to bond with other kids who are like them and who share the same interests. The school also has plenty of after-school clubs and organizations. Kids of any age can join these, but some are of more interest to older kids. For example, a club for community service is more likely to attract older kids than younger kids. But if a 6-year-old wants to join, he can. Six-year-olds can come up with some very good ideas for community service. And if a club isn’t what a student expects, he is free to quit and join another one. Everyone understands that reality doesn’t always match expectations. Besides, kids are encouraged to try things out, so there is no stigma attached to quitting. Quitting is only discouraged when a student hits a road block in learning. That’s where kids are encouraged to persevere.

Since kids can learn at their own pace, there is no set number of years a student is required to be in school. He is required to be school until he has mastered all that is required, however long it takes. A graduation ceremony is held each year for those students who are ready to move on to college or trade school, and the graduating “class” is made up of kids of all ages. Some kids choose to stay in school for a few years after they mastered the requirements. They use the time to learn as much as they can on all the topics they are interested in, and that includes art and music.

Ben’s parents are as pleased with the school as Ben is. They don’t have to fight to see that Ben’s needs are met. They don’t have to deal with standardized testing or arguments about socialization. They are never told that they need to stop “pushing” Ben, to let Ben be a kid. So just where is this ideal school Ben and his parents love so much? It’s in a place called Utopia.

Hoagies August 2018 blog hop

This blog post is part of Hoagies’ Gifted Education blog hop. The topic for August 2018 is  Utopian Fantasy. To read more blogs on this topic, click here or on the graphic above. BainbridgeEducationFor Parentsideal school,school for gifted kids
Ben could hardly sleep. Tomorrow would be the start of a whole new adventure and he couldn't wait for it to begin. He'd already had quite an adventure in the last few months. He had gone fishing for the first time and that fishing trip led him to learn...