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‘Whole child’ focus animates Children’s School programs

By Jesus Castillo

A small group of third graders gathered around the teacher to watch a Spanish video playing on the screen of a laptop computer. The teacher asked questions about it as they watch, and the children, together, answered her in Spanish.

“Our kids start learning Spanish from the time they’re in kindergarten,” said Tamara Black, director of communications at The Children’s School in La Jolla (TCS). “By the time they leave they have a pretty good grasp of the language.”

Learning a foreign language from a young age is just one of the steps involved in what Black calls the education of “the whole child.”

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“Our mission is to develop our students academically, socially, artistically and in all other aspects of life,” she said. “We teach the core subjects, just like other schools, but we have a lot of specialized programs, because what we want is to grow good, well-rounded citizens of the world.”

The educators at TCS, which was founded in 1972, base their curriculum on the philosophy of “progressive pedagogy,” which proposes that children should play a larger, hands-on role in their own education.

“Listening to someone talk about something is one way to learn,” Black said. “But to learn things at a deeper level, you have to actually do them.”

In the school’s Great Artists program, one example of this hands-on approach to education, classes focus on a single famous artist and his body of work. The students then create their own art pieces that emulate this artist’s style and ideas.

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The six-week program culminates in a one-night event own personal laptop computer to carry around like a notebook.

TCS has a student government, and all students take on responsibilities unique to their grade level. For example, the third graders run the school’s recycling program and the first graders take charge of the school’s post office.

Even when it comes to mediating conflicts, the kids play a central role.

“The kids in the upper grades take on the role of conflict mediators to their peers,” Black said. “They resolve playground fights and other altercations that younger kids get into. This helps the kids learn how to solve problems on their own.”

Maintaining all of these programs does not come cheap, however.

“With all the recent federal budget cuts, a lot of (public) schools have had to cut their special programs,” Black said. “We are lucky that we are able to still offer those programs as an independent school. We do charge tuition and that covers about 80 percent of our operating cost and the rest we get through fundraisers and money from the community.”

Tuition costs range from $4,475 a year for half-day parent/toddler classes all the way to $14,200 a year for elementary-level classes, which is about $4,000 more than a full-time year’s tuition at a University of California school.

According to Black, however, the results are worth the price.

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“We do extremely well with our kids” she said. “Ultimately, the hallmark of success is to graduate and go on to have a successful career no matter where you go. The reports that we get back from the middle schools and high schools our kids go on to attend are glowing.”

Black added that TCS teaches its students to be assertive about their opinions and to speak out during class.

“They leave here with such a strong sense of themselves,” she said. “As a result they are not afraid to say what they mean and be who they are.” in which the school becomes a museum where the children exhibit their artwork. Each class covers a different artist. So far the Great Artists program has covered Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keeffe, the development of cartoon art and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright.

This approach to education is present in every program at TCS.

“We ask our kids, ‘What did you learn from this lesson?’ and ‘What would you like to learn more about?’” said Black.

The interaction between the children and the teachers remains dynamic as does the structure of the classrooms themselves. Far from the rigid rows of desks that characterize some school classrooms, the rooms at TCS have a more organic arrangement with couches, cushions and chairs located in different activity areas.

Other specialized programs at the school include a separate science lab classroom in which students wear lab coats and interact with live animals as they learn about them.

Students learn gardening and take monthly road trips to the Torrey Pines State Reserve. They also visit the Getty Villa and the San Diego Natural History Museum.

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Students of every grade level work with computers, and all sixth graders get their own personal laptop computer to carry around like a notebook.

TCS has a student government, and all students take on responsibilities unique to their grade level. For example, the third graders run the school’s recycling program and the first graders take charge of the school’s post office.

Even when it comes to mediating conflicts, the kids play a central role.

“The kids in the upper grades take on the role of conflict mediators to their peers,” Black said. “They resolve playground fights and other altercations that younger kids get into. This helps the kids learn how to solve problems on their own.”

Maintaining all of these programs does not come cheap, however.

“With all the recent federal budget cuts, a lot of (public) schools have had to cut their special programs,” Black said. “We are lucky that we are able to still offer those programs as an independent school. We do charge tuition and that covers about 80 percent of our operating cost and the rest we get through fundraisers and money from the community.”

Tuition costs range from $4,475 a year for half-day parent/toddler classes all the way to $14,200 a year for elementary-level classes, which is about $4,000 more than a full-time year’s tuition at a University of California school.

According to Black, however, the results are worth the price.

“We do extremely well with our kids” she said. “Ultimately, the hallmark of success is to graduate and go on to have a successful career no matter where you go. The reports that we get back from the middle schools and high schools our kids go on to attend are glowing.”

Black added that TCS teaches its students to be assertive about their opinions and to speak out during class.

“They leave here with such a strong sense of themselves,” she said. “As a result they are not afraid to say what they mean and be who they are.”


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