Every school day begins with a morning meeting, where students and teachers sit in a circle on the rug and greet each other, discuss an activity that was posted on the board that morning, share news and student work, and sometimes do a group activity. By participating in these activities, children reinforce academic skills as well as practice social skills such as listening, speaking, problem solving, and giving and receiving feedback.
Through sharing information and asking questions about each other’s lives, they build community. The morning meeting helps each child to feel valued and sets a positive climate for the day. After the winter break, our Pre-K students read with an older buddy once a week prior to the morning meeting. They then join the meeting, sit in the circle with their reading buddies, and participate in our greeting. As the year progresses, many of our Pre-K students will confidently share their work or news with the entire community at the morning meeting.
On most days we come together as a community for our end-of-day meeting. During this time students and staff share reflections on the day and/or individual accomplishments or struggles. This meeting also facilitates a smooth transition to dismissal.
Weekly town meetings help us develop problem solving and cooperation skills. Children learn to exchange views, and discover how to work both individually and as a group to solve the problems of their school community. Students and teachers are invited to list any problems they are experiencing, and these items are brought up for discussion with the group. The tone of the meeting is honest and non-judgmental, and the students follow a set of rules and procedures (for example, try to solve problems, no “put downs,” listen and make eye contact, use your “I voice,” and do not use people’s names).
Parents are encouraged to discuss their child’s progress with Saratoga Independent School faculty at any time during the school year. In addition, formal and informal assessments are ongoing. Assessments allow teachers to determine what skills each child has mastered, and to develop appropriate instruction for that child. We measure each child’s growth within the learning process itself, not in relation to “grade level” expectations.
Teachers assess students through observation, evaluation of work, and testing. In some areas, particularly math, we give traditional pencil and paper tests. In most areas, however, we use “authentic assessments” in which students demonstrate skills and concepts they have learned by applying them to real-world tasks. While traditional tests provide feedback on whether a child can recall what was learned out of context, authentic assessments require students to practice higher-order thinking skills — they need to analyze, synthesize and apply what they have learned.
For example, rather than ask multiple-choice questions about Hammurabi, we might ask our students to create a scene in Hammurabi’s court. In addition we might ask students to compare the political structure of two ancient civilizations, to take a position and debate it, to evaluate an author’s style in a literary piece, or to predict the result in a scientific experiment when variables are changed.
Saratoga Independent School provides parents with three progress reports throughout the year. Each report includes written narratives prepared by their child’s team of teachers. Fall progress reports are presented in person to parents by their child’s team of teachers. Mid-year progress reports are presented at a parent/teacher/student-sharing conference at which each child actively participates in the assessment of his/her learning, and parents experience their child’s performance and give feedback within a structured environment. The final progress report is mailed to parents in June, although meetings with teachers are available upon request.
Like the schoolwork that takes place during the day, homework assignments come in the form of meaningful learning activities as opposed to textbook passages and memorization of facts. Homework is not assigned nightly, however when it is given students are expected to put forth their best efforts in a timely manner. Homework gives students the opportunity to develop life skills such as time management, organization, self-discipline, and personal responsibility. It also helps children develop the study skills that they will need throughout their academic careers.Homework also serves as a link between home and school, allowing parents to observe their child’s progress and to get a sense of the material taught in school.
At Saratoga Independent School we care about how something is done, and not just that it is done. In the case of homework assigned to intermediate and upper students, we use a rubric to help the children evaluate their own work. A rubric lists the criteria used to evaluate an assignment, and shows the gradations of quality. It allows students, teachers and parents to evaluate work against the same standards.
When using a rubric, the children evaluate themselves and assign a score to their work before handing it in. Teachers use the same rubric to assess the work. We expect that student and teacher scores will be in close agreement. If the work is evaluated as below acceptable standards, students have the opportunity to make changes or even do the homework over. If they decide to leave it as is, they are accepting that they have not met all of the requirements and have not put forth their best efforts. Rubrics empower students to better assess and take responsibility for their work.
Saratoga Independent School students participate in a nice variety of field trips throughout the year. Destinations may include theatrical performances, museums, outdoor exploration sites, senior citizen communities, government buildings, and many more. Parents are welcome to join the students unless there are bus or seating limitations that are prohibitive