Summer is just around the corner and area schools are wrapping up their academic year. For one local school this is a special milestone as it marks the end of the very first year of the school. The Yadkin Valley Community School, 240 Standard St., opened its doors in Elkin this past fall and is creating a unique new learning environment for area students.
This K-6 school offers small, multi-age classrooms, a Montessori-inspired curriculum and many hands-on learning opportunities. Students are allowed to move through the curriculum at their own pace and explore areas of their own interests, explained Kimberly Seipel-Parks, one of the school’s founders and board members.
“The staff, the parents, the students and the board are all thrilled with the way that the first year has gone. It has been better than we could have imagined. We are looking forward to growing our staff and our class size next year, but there will always be a special place in my heart for this first year,” Seipel-Parks said.
Last Friday the students were getting a hands-on geology lesson from Robyn Vernon. A self-proclaimed rock hound and jewelry maker, Vernon brought samples of various gemstones and minerals for the children to examine and a few that the students were able to take home, including their own geode which they cracked open with assistance from Vernon.
It was Vernon’s first time presenting to elementary school students, but something she hopes to do more of in the future.
“I’ve kind of been waiting for someone to ask, it’s something I really enjoy,” Vernon said. She said that she could see some budding rock hounds in the group already and this lesson in geology could spur a deeper interest in science for the students.
“I think out of this crowd we have at least three junior rock hounds and I think after today maybe you’ll have five,” she said. “I think it opens a door to some learning that I was not aware of when I was young. I would like to think that this would open the door for someone at a early age and that would open more doors in other areas later in life.”
Throughout the year the students have had the chance to learn about many different topics through hands-on experiments and lessons. In addition to outside field trips and special guest teachers such as Vernon, the students are also free to move about their classroom space throughout the day as they work on their lessons.
Seipel-Parks explained how a typical day goes for students at the Yadkin Valley Community School.
“Each day, the students begin with share time. This gives the students a chance to share things that are important to them, and it gives the teacher a chance to tell the students about the events of the day. Then each child is given his or her individual work plan. The work plans allow for each child to work at his or her on pace and teach the students about time management. During their morning work time, the students work independently in pairs or individually. Also, the teacher may give small group or whole group lessons at this time. The students learn about math, science, history, geography and language during morning work. The way that they learn these subjects differs from traditional public schools. There are no desks. The students work mostly on the floor, sometimes at larger tables or even outside. They move freely about the room which is filled with hands-on manipulatives for every subject,” she said. “This type of experiential learning has been very successful. The kids have learned about Africa through drumming and dance, parts of a bird through studying [teacher Joe Dougherty’s] chicken, physics through the experiment of the week, and about decimals by cutting a whole circle into parts going all the way to one-millionth.
The students also take time for a mindfulness practice after lunch.
“This helps students to calm themselves, refocus for the rest of the day and become more in tune with their feelings and actions. Reading hour alternates between the teacher reading a book aloud to the whole class followed by a group discussion and independent reading. The teacher is also trained in Ortan Gillingham which allows him to tutor students with dyslexia during reading hour. The afternoons are filled with Spanish games, music, activities in the outdoor classroom, hikes to the river and walking trips around downtown Elkin to dance and yoga studios, the Elkin Public Library and the Foothills Arts Council.”
These outings in the local area are integral to the school’s mission, which is “to develop a unique educational environment that fosters the whole child by encouraging academic excellence, joy of learning, creativity, curiosity, mindfulness, self-empowerment and community awareness.
“One thing that is important to us is that the school is truly part of the community. That is why we walk to local businesses and organizations weekly. It is also why we invite people from the community into our school to share their talents and expertise. This year we have had musicians, poets, story tellers, artists, computer programmers and a rock hound. This enriches the learning experience and helps students develop social skills,” Seipel-Parks said.
Enrollment for the 2016/2017 academic year is now open. The school is also offering a Special Talent Scholarship Program for the upcoming school year. Parents can apply on behalf of their own child. Coaches, teachers and mentors can also nominate a child. Recipients of the scholarship will receive $500 in their initial year at the school. Students may receive a scholarship based on academics, dance, art, building and engineering, outdoor skills, science, creative writing, leadership, helping others and more. For more information on enrollment or to locate the scholarship application, visit the school’s website www.yadkinvalleyschool.org.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.