Last night, I attended an open house at Live Oak. Six teachers spoke about the school's inquiry-based science curriculum. The event was designed to give prospective parents a deeper understanding of Live Oak's approach to learning.
The kindergarten teacher, John Michaud, introduced his classroom pets, a guinea pig named Eleanor Roosevelt and Speedy the tortoise. The first grade teacher, Danny Montoya, who could also make it as a stand-up comedian, told a story about a student who was convinced a horse is a fish. The third grade teacher, Holly Berg, talked about how her students concluded as a team that objects change weight depending on where you put them on a scale. The sixth grade teacher, Karen Bush, showed some photos of kids conducting experiments with dry ice. And the seventh and eighth grade science teacher Jennifer Spaeth talked about her students discovering the Doppler effect. "The idea is to guide them without spoon-feeding them answers," Spaeth said.
The science they talked about is hands-on. Kids work in groups and discover the world themselves. Textbooks don't play a key role. Tests aren't introduced until middle school—and they're never true and false or multiple choice. These are tests that require students to use reasoning.
I found the panel informative and enlightening. I like how independent schools emphasize the curriculum. A lot of thought is put into how children learn—private schools aren't restricted by state mandates.
After the teachers' presentation, there was a mingling period so prospective parents could chat with current parents and administrators. A roomful of strangers makes me nervous. My voice trembles, my hands shake, my mind goes into a tizzy—and, especially annoying, my armpits sweat.
I carpooled to the event with some friends, who knew a handful of people. I didn't know a soul but I forced myself to adventure out into the crowd, drips of sweat starting to trickle down. I visited the hors d'oeuvre table a few times (where the Rice Krispies treats were heavenly), checked out the students' artwork on the walls, and killed some time in the bathroom drying my armpits with toilet paper.
Most of the parents were engaged in conversation with one another—or jockeying to talk to the head of school, Holly Horton, who seems to be a friendly, warm, entirely unintimidating lady. Should I try to go talk to her? No, I immediately thought—but my subconscious was urging me otherwise: "Okay, count to three and then go." "You can do this. You're a big girl." "If Alice meant that much to you, you'd go talk to her." I was finally about to approach Horton—honestly, I swear, I was only 10 inches away from her. But then a friendly current parent approached me—and thank goodness because we bonded. She had a third grader and a kindergartener at the school. We had lots in common. She also toured all the public schools and applied to only two private. We chatted for a long time as Horton moved to the other side of the room. Oh well!
And this brings me to the topic of application essays, which have received flack in this blog's comments section. I love the essays—because it gives people like me the opportunity to thoughtfully express my interest in a school using the written word. I flounder when it comes to communicating verbally but I can usually throw something together in writing.
It seems to me that the independent schools offer a variety of opportunities for families to get acquainted with a school. Tours, applications, intimate coffee hours, open houses. While some may see the essays as a way for the highly educated (which I'm not) to express themselves, I see them as a way for blundering schmoozers to get themselves heard.