North Fork School of Integrated Studies is an arts infused, holistic, integrated education designed to provide academic excellence through experiential learning. The aim of NFSIS is to balance academic subjects with artistic and practical activities. By freely using arts and activities in service of teaching academics an internal motivation is developed in the students. The teachers strive to model a human being who is wise, artistic and compassionate. They are people who are interested in the world and optimistic about the future. They are dedicated to guarding and cherishing the children under their care and committed to showing the world in beauty and truth.
NFSIS is developmentally based. This means that it is designed to be responsive to the various phases of a child’s development. The academic subjects are taught in a two hour Main Lesson block each morning, staying with one subject for a period of several weeks. This gives the students time to find the relevance of one subject to another which in turn gives meaning to their studies. The curriculum has been likened to an ascending spiral: subjects are revisited several times in the year and each new exposure affords greater depth and new heights.
A typical Elementary School curriculum would likely look something like this:
All our teachers have college degrees. They are required by the district to take a placement test and the class teachers have been given a year in which to study for their Colorado Teaching Certificate. They are also receiving ongoing training in Waldorf methods of teaching. In the early years the children look to the teacher for guidance and direction; as they grow they are gradually given more responsibility and independence for their school work.
Interest in language arts begins early with the recitation of verses and the telling of stories. Like all subjects at NFSIS, reading is taught experientially. Letters are introduced through drawings, stories, sound, and movement, such as the letter S being drawn on the chalkboard in the form of a beautiful white Swan on a lake, and a story being told about The Six Swans. The letter S can be walked, drawn in the air, shaped with clay, heard in alliteration verses, and finally drawn on paper. Reading is taught first through comprehension of a story which then moves to writing and reading aloud what the children themselves have written, and then reading the printed word.
NFSIS hesitates to categorize children as having a learning problem before 2nd grade. We want to give children a chance to mature. The teacher will give special attention to a child that needs help. Correspondingly the child who is quick to understand the material will be asked to help another child and be given work that will stretch his/her knowledge. At the end of second grade all the children are given an evaluation to see if there is a learning problem. If there is, there are Individual Plans and special education teachers for helping that child. We are fortunate to have the same resources as the PES teachers in this regard.
Homework is given in stages as children develop the capacity for handling learning after school as well as during the day. We provide spelling and vocabulary work consistently to establish study rhythms. Meaningful projects are given in addition to simple weekly activities such as reading for 20 minutes per night during weekdays. Developing proficiency in reading takes practice, hence parents are asked to provide this time in the rhythm of their child’s evening rituals. Math practice for students who need more support is essential as homework for some students. When it is appropriate, challenge problems or activities are given in math in grade 3 and up. It is our hope that parents will enjoy the projects that may take some time at home to create. Generally, a sharing of these creations is done in a presentation format in the regular classroom and sometimes for the greater community.
The environment of the classroom and the rhythm of the day is designed to instill a sense of calm, joyful activity and harmony within and between children. Discipline is held in the class through the loving presence of the teacher who encourages inner qualities of goodness and kindness. Each child is expected to take responsibility for the order of the classroom through daily chores. If there is a problem arising between students, the children are enrolled in the solution. The teacher will ask, “How can we fix this?” If a child is disrupting the class or acting out, the teacher will find creative and positive ways to work with the child, such as engaging his/ her will through beneficial activity. If they continue to disrupt the class, the child will be brought to the other NFSIS classroom for a’ time out’ from his/ her own class. The student will be asked to write out possible solutions to the problem. The overarching attitude of the teacher is the good humored expectation of good behavior.
NFSIS is based on experiential learning, arts infused and integrated subjects all of which are part of the Waldorf inspired philosophy of teaching children. While we model wholesome values like gratitude, kindness, respect and care for one another and the natural world, we do not teach children any religion or system of belief.
Seasonal festivals are held outside of school and are optional. Celebrating the harvest, the deep winter stillness of solstice, or the budding of spring are all deep in the roots of our humanity. A sense of wonder and awe for nature is the basis for respect, kindness and peace in young children. There is joy in the anticipation, the preparation, the celebration itself and the memories. NFSIS will hold festivals in which families gather to honor the rhythmic cycles of the year. These festivals include Michaelmas and Lantern Walk, both held in the autumn, celebrating harvest and a time to remember the strength and the light within us as we head into the dark time of year. The winter solstice is celebrated with an Advent festival, in which children are invited to walk in silence and reverence around a spiral of evergreen boughs by candlelight. We celebrate the coming of spring at the May Day festival, in which we dance and sing around the maypole.
These festivals are held outside of school and are optional.