Sweetland School Hits its Stride

SWEETLAND SCHOOL, Hope, ME “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” ~ John Dewey

It’s year # two for Sweetland School, and coming out for their Parent Night was just the right time to find out where it is heading. I first met Lindsay Pinchbeck in March of 2013, when she told me that her dream was to start a school that was “child driven, offered independent learning, and was strong in the arts.” In the fall of ’14, she opened Sweetland as its leader, with one mixed age group class and a thoughtfully chosen group of very part time teachers. After having completed her first full year last June, Lindsay clearly was on the path to achieving what she’d set out to do. IMG_6177In year # one, families had the choice to enroll their child for as many days as they wished. Mondays and Fridays were designated as pure art experience days. IMG_3996As the school approached spring, there were questions about how many teachers were needed and who would stay on. What would be different about this new year?IMG_3983

“Sweetland School is about joyful, lively, and deep learning,” declared Lindsay as she opened the parent meeting on October 15. “The simpler we are with our intention, the more profound we can get.” IMG_3993

IMG_4004There is nothing simple about what Sweetland stands for. Lindsay and her staff (Marlee, Amy, and Jess, who were present that evening) articulated everything about the school’s vision that a parent would want to know. They described the ultimate process of professional collaboration. In the summer preceding year # two, teachers decided to take everything out of the building and rearrange it for a fresh perspective. IMG_3991This united the team and reaffirmed their mission. With a larger group of incoming students, they created spaces where they would teach skills to small cohorts and open areas for whole group science and integrated arts. IMG_3985IMG_3990The messages I heard that evening included “igniting the essence of every child, enabling each child to develop his or her voice, collaborate with peers, and engage in meaningful partnerships with the community.” Teachers asked good questions. “How can art help us think more deeply?” “How can experts enable students to build on their experiences?” ” How will music inspire us to play, move, explore, and build confidence?” Sweetland has a solid focus on literacy and math, and Lindsay has devised impressive ways to record student progress.IMG_3997 This crew of pros is synthesizing the essence of good teaching. With the insights of John Dewey, the Reggio Emilia approach, and current day scholars like Tony Wagner, Daniel Pink, and Sir Ken Robinson, they’re engaging children in all encompassing studies – like rivers and water, that address every curricular area.IMG_3987 And kids are learning in ways that are just right for them.

Sweetland is on target and reaching for the high standards Pinchbeck set out to attain. May this year continue to define the essence of what today’s educational programs could be.

Nancy Harris Frohlich   (Advisory Board, Sweetland School)

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