Savannah River Academy – What Do You Mean MISTAKES are OK?

That’s right! Mistakes really are OK! We all make them, every day actually, but when we think of traditional education and mistakes, we just see the red marks, the low grades, or the head hung in shame! How is this in any way conducive to becoming a lifelong learner? An enjoyer of education?

It’s NOT and Savannah River Academy has not only figured this out, but has started a school that puts thinking outside the box into practice!

Happy students! This is what we all want to see in our schools! No matter if you have no children, school aged children, or grown children, it is always nice to see happy learning children. I don’t think anyone would argue with that!

Here the kids are learning, AND happy about it!

Everyone starts their day with a school wide morning meeting which was described more as a family environment. Sometimes they have character education, or talk about pressing issues, the meeting doesn’t last long and it freshens and prepares everyone for the day.

When children go to their classrooms, they are grouped by skill level, which means multiple ages are in each group. The classes rotate from subject to subject throughout the day with the exception of kindergarten. Students started the school year saying, “I’m in _____ grade.”  Now they say, “I’m in the blue (or what ever color) group.”  The distinction between traditional grade level is gone, and the child is just learning on a daily basis.

Teachers can dress in jeans and were given a supply of Savannah River Academy T shirts (but they can dress how they want). They are expected to get dirty while they enjoy teaching. They also decided what furniture they wanted in their classrooms – tables, chairs, floor seating, or alternative seating. Teachers are welcome to teach from their comfortable space as well, with some sitting on the floor with the children.

In every classroom I observed teachers interacting with student groups or students were working independently making the teacher available for one on one attention. In a well working traditional school, this is standard right? The difference is, the students were all engaged in their work. They glanced up at me, some for a longer stare, but then went back to work and continued their learning.

Math classes use the Singapore Math Curriculum with each level being broken up into 2 books. It is self paced and students can finish more than 1 “year” of math in a school year. Based on real world necessity for problem solving, using mental math and math sense as opposed to memorization, this curriculum works well at Savannah River Academy. Our observation barely interrupted the class when we entered and within seconds kids were back to learning math! MATH!  Everyone knows that’s one of the hardest subjects for a LOT of kids. The teacher was teaching a small group of students while the other group worked independently. While looking through workbooks, I saw many blank or partially completed pages. If the student knows the material, it is skipped, no need to keep reviewing what is already known. If the student doesn’t understand the material, it is covered again. Basic common sense at use here!

Cross over classes cover social studies and science with everyone learning about the same topic, but at different levels. For example, learning about how vision works, older students might dissect cow eyeballs (wow!), while younger students learn about pin hole cameras.

Reading class uses guided reading, small groups read with the teacher every day. Different reading strategies are employed and not all students are reading the same book. The Running Record Assessments assess reading fluency and comprehension and are based on higher level thinking following Blooms Taxonomy. A dyslexia program with one on one support is available for students who struggle with dyslexia.

Ok, so hold on, you said no tests! So how do they know where the kids are if there are no tests?

No, there are no regular classroom tests or standardized tests in the traditional sense of the word, but there are assessments that show the teacher and student the student’s strengths and weaknesses. This enables both to understand where improvements need to be made, goals set, and progress tracked. This is how we all learn, we just don’t usually use such a formal format as adults.

Think of it like this: It is IMPOSSIBLE TO FAIL an assessment at Savannah River Academy. You simply discover what you need to work on and what you know already.

In a traditional setting “50% is considered failing, but here we celebrate success and set goals,” a beautiful statement by Maribeth Burns, Principal of Savannah River Academy. “Kids feel more successful because we’re meeting them where they are,” they have “less stress” from “not feeling inferior,” and the, “faster kids” are, “not twiddling their thumbs.” Isn’t this what we want as a society for each and every one of our students?

One very interesting point is this school does not have parties.

What? The students don’t get to enjoy themselves?

That’s just the point. When students are enjoying every day of school, there’s no need for blow out, waste of classroom instruction time, parties!  Students work from the time they get to school until they leave, every school day, and they enjoy it! Truly Amazing!


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