Why Every School Needs Friday Workshops

avignon bike“It is a problem that so many children love learning and hate school,” says Nick Gillon, Phoenix Rising’s Education Director. “It’s a problem when rich, rigorous, relevant and engaging experiences have become the exception rather than the norm.” At heart, he says, the issue is one of equating ‘learning’ with ‘schooling’, and academic schooling at that. But learning encompasses many other skills which are applicable in everyday life, which is why every Friday, Phoenix students from kindergarten through 6th grade get the chance to participate in workshops that run the gamut from crochet to canning, bmx bikes to propulsion science, and acrogym to candle making. The result is enthusiasm, new skills, pride in their work and – dare we say it? – joy.

“I don’t know many schools that make homemade spaghetti, bike ride, weave, do pickling and lots of other things,” says Pyrenees, age ten. “This way kids can learn about things that they love,” explains Chatalain, also age ten. “Sometimes if you just get assigned something, you don’t want to be there. When you can choose it, you can easily feel like, ‘I love this because I chose it and I knew what I wanted to do.’” Students find that the skills they pick up in workshops transfer nicely to the rest of their lives. “If you didn’t know how to ride a bike and you took the biking workshop, you would know how to do that skill,” says Helen, a third grader. “And cooking, that’s something we can use everyday.”

For teachers, workshops offer a chance to teach a subject they’re passionate about. “I get to choose something that I’m really interested in, so it’s not like actually working because I have so much fun,” says 3rd and 4th grade teacher Megan Moskwa, who has taught canning, soap making, candle making and more. ”Seeing kids get excited about making blackberry jam really makes my day.” Audrey Goodwin-Arpin concurs. Four days a week she teaches K-1, but on Fridays she has offered acrogym, crochet, jewelry making, knitting and most recently, cooking. “If I like something and I do it in my own life, I transfer that passion to them,” she says.

Students and teachers also get an opportunity to mix with people they wouldn’t normally see. According to Miles, a first grader, “You can get to know other people better.” The different grouping of students add to the feeling of a village, says Audrey. “When I see the students outside at recess, I’ve already been their teacher. There’s a different level of respect and a feeling that we’re responsible for all of them, not just the ones in our class. It’s also a way to keep track of the one’s that I’ve already had that have moved on from my class.” View Photos View Video
Here are some of the workshops that have been taught at Phoenix Rising over the last three years:
bmx bikes art fairy houses

candle making soccer cooking

survival skills acrogym advanced electronics

soap making weaving Korean language

puppets piano theater

pottery cartoon journalism

jewelry making improv singing

lamp making creative drama gardening

fiber arts living history dance

school beautiful race cars water color

carpentry handbuilt pottery

anime propulsion science outdoor education
digital photo and video

The Next Spielberg? 

Deka knows how to fly. He can also teleport, light things on fire and generate electrical storms at will – on his computer, adeka1t least. After three months viewing youtube tutorials, this third grader has learned the ins and out of Adobe After Effects. Now, he’s sharing that knowledge with everyone, including his teacher Ms. Sonya. “When he told me that he knew how to use After Effects, I was duly impressed. Here was a third grader who understood a program that I consider quite complicated. He sat down and within ten minutes, he’d taught me how to make a lightning effect, and made it look so simple.”

Deka’s desire to learn was born out of a love of special effects. “I’ve always seen movies where people are flying and it’s so cool,” he says. “So I was trying to look up other editing programs and I found this one.”

For Sonya, seeing what he can do has been a revelation. “Deka is a student who has shown a really high level of focus in the C.R.E.A.T.E. program,” she explains.  “I see how the same focus now applies to something he’s really passionate about. He has the patience and he’s self-motivated. It was so amazing to see what he’s capable of.”

His next challenge is tackling Sony Vegas. “It’s the same thing but more complicated,” he says. “It’s more professional.” He would welcome the opportunity to teach other children. “I would love to teach, if there were a workshop.” Sonya’s goal is to upgrade the computer lab to keep up with the abilities of students like Deka. “I’d like to get sophisticated software in so that we can facilitate that kind of passion, and give Deka and others the chance to teach each other about video and other features. There will be future productions,” she promises. View a SHORT video

How Somersaults Build Better Brains

Phoenix Rising Teams Up With Yelm Gymnastics 

gymnasticsIf you ever watch kids play on the monkey bars, twisting and spinning themselves into impossible positions (for some of us), you might come to the conclusion that children are born flexible. You would be mistaken. “Some of our students have a really hard time touching their toes,” says Phoenix Rising Pre-K facilitator Nancy Driscoll. “That’s one reason the gymnastics program is so great.” On the first and third Wednesday of each month, Phoenix Rising Pre-K students visit Yelm Gymnastics for an hour. Even these short visits reap huge developmental and cognitive rewards.

“The age they are, they need to move,” says Pre-K core facilitator Carol Shimono, “That’s how they learn things, by using their bodies. They’re helping their brains and their bodies develop by practicing their gross motor movement.” It’s developmentally appropriate for them to have opportunities for tumbling, jumping and more in spaces that are safe, she explains. “The aim is to add to movements they are already practicing in the classroom and provide a foundation to expand what we can do.”

Gina Cowles of Yelm Gymnastics sees other advantages. “It’s a chance for the kids to be socialized,” she says. “They can get their energy out and learn new terminology.” The students clearly enjoy the lessons, according to Carol. “Everyone participates. They’re good listeners, they follow directions and just have a lot of fun.”

It’s not just kids who benefit. For parents, it’s also a chance to explore new options, says Gina.  “There’s not a whole lot to do in this town if you have little kids. You can only go to the library so many times.” Nancy notices that such field trips create opportunities for parents to mingle and get to know each other.

Overall, it’s been a great example of “seeing a need and reaching out to the community to fill it,” says Nancy. “We don’t have the equipment to be able to facilitate them jumping on a trampoline or doing mat work. It’s an added advantage to use their services to get our needs met – a win-win situation.” Building these kinds of bridges with the larger community is a key part of Phoenix Rising’s educational model, which includes core values of relevance and relationships.

THE LARGEST CLASSROOM IN THE WORLD?

Okay, not quite. But 10 acres are a great starting point for Phoenix Rising’s Hands-on Approach

waterday1Quick quiz: Which of the following activities take place at home and which happen at school?

1. Roasting marshmallows at the fire pit.
2. Riding dirt bikes off a ramp.
3. Collecting food you grew from the garden for a mid-morning snack.
4. Making fairy houses in the forest.
5. Playing elaborate games of tag around an a-frame wooden structure.

If you said ‘school’ to all of the above, congratulations! You must be a Phoenix Rising student. With ten acres to roam, we make use of every available space as an opportunity to learn.

But don’t be misled: All of the activities listed above may sound like play, but they’re actually tied to units and workshops that make learning hands-on, relevant and engaging. “Outdoor education and play time helps students become high-performance learners with skill sets that will be with them throughout their lives,” says Kevin J. Coyle ot the National Wildlife Federation. Students who spend time outdoors also perform measurably better on standardized tests.

We are indeed fortunate in our rural campus, where our closest neighbors include llamas, cows, goats and a group of St. Bernard dogs. For more information about the benefits of outdoor education, click here. To see how Phoenix Rising does Outdoor Education, click here. View Photos of ‘Water Day’

 

Awesome Tears: Week One for New Families

new studentsOn her son’s first day of pre-school, Karen K. was a bit apprehensive. At his last school, “It took him a month to adjust,” she says. So she let the staff know that if he was having a hard time, they should call her. Accordingly, Administrator Jessica Caldwell checked in with Gus after half an hour in his new class. “How’s it going?” she asked. “Awesome!” he responded. “I already forgot about my mom.” It could be worse. When fellow pr-K parent Aria came to pick up her four-year old son Ricky after day one, “He cried,” she says. “He didn’t want to come home.”

In fact, our nine new students seem to be adjusting remarkably well, especially considering that some of them are getting used to a whole new schedule. “We’ve had a few trying mornings,” says Adriana, whose daughter Sienna is in the first grade. “It’s been a huge change because she’s never gone to school every day of the week. But once she gets there, she loves it. She’s in heaven.” Welcome to all of our new parents and students: Ryan, Karen and Gus; Aria, Ricky and Ricky Jr. ; Eileen, Matthew and Miles; Renee, Ari and grandmother Linda; Kai, Cozette and Harmony; Oivind, Kirstie and Pearl; Megan, Josh and Alice; Scott, Rebecca and Jake ; T.J., Adriana and Sienna; and Raiya, sister of Phoenix Rising students Tyler and Brooklyn Allen and daughter of Kristina and Tim. We are so happy you’re here!
View Photos from Our First Full Week