Growing up TCS--Deep roots help our kids blossom in our K-8 model
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
This is the story of Farmer Brown.
Farmer Brown grows the most sumptuous strawberries in the entire tri-county area. Huge and juicy, the perfect shades of crimson, scarlet, and poppy, they hang low from the weight of all the sugar and sweet meat packed into their heart shaped package. Farmer Brown has perfected the process and everyone in town knows it.
Of course, the plants don’t start out with prize-winning fruit already attached to the vine. It takes time to set the seeds up for success. Yes, the seeds come with all the DNA needed to become fruit, but it’s the environment that coaxes them to take hold and blossom. They are grown in small patches, with nutrient rich earth, clean water and the right amount of light (which seems a simple recipe, but one that Farmer Brown has tweaked and measured to find strawberry utopia) First a sprout, then the green fuzzy leaves herald the coming of the delicate flower that lets Farmer Brown know that her years of research, months of preparation, and days of toil have made a difference. And when that day comes--when the tiny petals emerge telling Farmer Brown that her harvest has taken a deep and abiding root and that an unrivaled berry is soon to follow…….
they are plucked out of their nurturing home, shipped to a bigger farm with different soil, different farming practices, different food and light sources and then told they better figure out how to grow in this new environment because all the other strawberries do it, so why can’t they. This is, after all, how all the other farms do it, and besides, this will help them end up on the top shelf of the nice grocery store in town which is what all good strawberries should want. THE END
Some of those strawberries had just begun to take root and blossom. They were on their way to becoming the next blue ribbon berry of the tri-county area if only given the opportunity to continue to flourish. Farmer Brown wondered: Was this the only way? It doesn’t have to be--not for berries, and not for our kids. That’s why we believe in the K-8 model at The Conservatory School.
The Conservatory School was the first K-8 school in the district of Palm Beach County. Grown out of a desire from parents and students to “Stay and Play.” The idea came from the nutrient rich earth at TCS, took root, and grew into what is one of the most popular schools in the district. It works because The Conservatory School recognizes the value in a K-8 model which builds on the inquiry based learning of primary students to cultivate young adults who come with the voice and agency to articulate themselves in class discussions and beyond. And we aren’t the only ones who believe it. A study in the AMERICAN EDUCATION RESEARCH JOURNAL confirms that students who attend a K-8 school are more comfortable, feel safer, and ultimately perform better academically than their counterparts at traditional middle or 6-12 schools. In addition, the study found that there is less bullying across ALL grades in schools with a wider range of ages than those with just a few grades. It seems there are an abundance of sweet berries in this patch.
Here are a few examples of how primary educators at TCS help plant firm roots that blossom into middle school and beyond:
1. Identity--The Conservatory School’s approach in primary classrooms is inquiry based learning where students formulate questions, investigate to find answers and build new understanding to communicate with others. The student’s “authentic spark” is the root from which the learning grows. Using this method our students develop very strong student voice and agency early in the primary years. They have confidence in their ability to problem solve and share with others. Fast forward to middle school where our students are engaging in project based learning that challenges them to explore real-world problems and unearth collaborative solutions. Students who enter this environment already possessing a confident view of their abilities and contribution have a clear advantage. A new study by author Elise Cappella states “Students’ self-perceptions of academic competence are critical in early adolescence, as they contribute to the development of their identity and their engagement with school.”
Cappella’s study by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development found that students who attend a middle school compared to a K-8 school are likely to have a lower perception of their reading skills, which can have a negative impact on their success. The Conservatory School middle school boasts the Highest Civics scores in Palm Beach County, the highest middle school math scores in the District, the 2nd highest middle school ELA scores in the district, 100% pass rate in high school Algebra I, and 100% pass rate in high school Geometry. When student confidence is at it’s ripest, it yields magnificent fruit.
2. Community--First grade teacher Amy McIntyre explains how Morning Meeting serves to encourage students. “Morning meeting is the time of day where we connect and build relationships.” Ms. McIntyre describes the goal of morning meeting as a time to “create a community where one can hear others and be heard. A place for us to learn from each other and about each other. It is a place where we create the safe space to be ourselves. She goes on to say “All of these goals help kids grow to be adults who look for connections and are able to communicate ideas, thoughts and feelings.” Fast forward to middle school where our students participate in Harkness--exchanging ideas, listening with compassion, and articulating their vision.This might sound hard for most ADULTS, but not for the students at The Conservatory School. They have been building those skills since kindergarten--receiving all the educational nutrients to thrive and find their voice. The strong relationships between students and educators cultivated year by year help students find their passions and clear out the weeds that choke out honest, open discussion.
3. Mastery--when you have a group of students who have genuine connections, and clearly articulated voices, the opportunity for true collaboration is heightened. It’s like the best organic plant food money can buy! We see this in the music classes at The Conservatory School. In music, students don’t just discuss something, they MAKE something TOGETHER. Students begin by exploring instruments, sound, and rhythm. Fast forward to middle school and young musicians are playing full orchestral suites, intricate marches, and performing in All-County and All-State ensembles. The National Association for Music Education confirms that students who play an instrument perform better in school, have better spatial relations, better language and reasoning skills, better SAT scores….the list goes on and on. At The Conservatory School students are able to tap into this educational superfood from Kindergarten through 8th grade without interruption. If you have ever been to a middle school concert at TCS, you have seen the skillful mastery that is a product of YEARS of preparation and careful tending from our music department. The Conservatory School Music Department is the finest example of excellence from seedling to fruit.
This is the story of Farmer Brown….with a different ending. This is the story of precious seeds that take root in deep, vivid soil, that grow without fear, and blossom into the best version of themselves--bright, bold, and full. This is our story.
This is The Conservatory School.
Our school is currently on the district 5 year capacity watch list. Suggested solutions include limiting choice seats and exploring programmatic options. If you believe in the K-8 model at TCS, consider writing a letter to the School Board voicing your support in keeping our middle school program.