Announcing: Ecology & Outdoor Leadership Program

Announcing Bridge School’s Newest Innovation in Addison County Elementary Education:

Ecology & Outdoor Leadership Program

For decades, Bridge School has valued the educational power of the natural world. As we approach our 40th anniversary as a school, we are formalizing this commitment to outdoor education by launching our new Ecology & Outdoor Leadership Program in September 2019. 

The Why: Inspired by the philosophy pioneered by forest schools, our inquiry-based learning for the year will explore topics related to sustainability, ecology, natural history, and outdoor skills. Child development research is conclusive on the topic of outdoor education: spending time outdoors leads to better outcomes both in and out of the classroom. Outdoor exploration provides vital opportunities for sensory development, reduces anxiety, improves focus, and leads to improvements in a variety of other indicators of health and wellbeing. Furthermore, we believe in empowering this generation as changemakers who are knowledgeable and skilled in sustainability topics.

The Where: Every week, rain or shine, we will start our week at school together with a half-day outdoor field trip. We will use Middlebury’s Wright Park as a home base, and partner with the Middlebury Area Land Trust. All of our regular classes–Math, Language Arts, and Explorations– will occur in the field, using the resources available as our base for discovery and inquiry.

The What: We will use our time in the field to focus on learning the natural history of Addison County, studying ecological concepts, and practicing outdoor survival skills. Back at school, we will expand on what we have learned, and think about the natural world from the perspective of sustainability as a school, and as individuals.

During our Mondays at Wright Park, and our inquiries during the rest of the week at school, the following broad, essential questions will guide us:  1) Where am I? 2) How did we get here? 3) Where are we going? 

We will also ask:

  • How do my choices have an impact on my community?
  • Who and what do we share the community with?
  • What can I do to make a positive impact on my community?
  • What does it mean to be an outdoor leader? What does it mean to be an ecological leader?
  • What does it mean to be a sustainability advocate? 

Furthermore, the following goals will be the compass by which we, as teachers, plan our explorations for the year.

We strive for our students to:

  • feel confidence in the outdoors, knowing how to stay safe and comfortable.
  • be knowledgeable about the natural history of Vermont, and ecological processes and systems.
  • be advocates for sustainability in their personal lives, their lives at home, and their lives at school.

An Award Winning Year–Bridge Wins 3 Prestigious Awards

We are thrilled to share the numerous awards Bridge School received this year!

1. Innovative Schools Award

In late March, students traveled to Montpelier to receive an “Innovative Schools Award” from the National School Choice Week organization. Bridge School was recognized from the State House floor, and students got to connect with other independent school students from across Vermont.

2. Letters About Literature 

Out of over 120 entries, Bridge students won 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the Letters About Literature Contest! This contest is sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Vermont State Library, and asks students to write a letter to an author whose work impacted their understanding of themselves or the world. The students in Amanda Warren’s Language Arts class all wrote letters and submitted them to the contest as part of this year’s curriculum. It was unbelievable that Bridge School swept the contest!

The winners traveled to the State House to receive their awards, and the 1st place winner read her letter out loud! The 1st place winner’s entry was also promoted to the national contest. Above, the winners are pictured with the Vermont State Librarian, Jason Broughton.

3. Junior Duck Stamp Contest


Bridge students took 1st and 2nd place in the Junior Duck Stamp Contest sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife! The 1st place artwork spent a month being displayed at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury. These drawings were done during “Winter Week” in February–a fun week where Bridge offers a variety of unique electives.

What Exactly is Chunka Chunka?

No doubt, the question we get asked most about our daily schedule is: What is Chunka Chunka? My answer is: Chunka Chunka is perhaps the most important part of the school day at Bridge School. Yes, you heard me! The MOST important time of day.

Practically, speaking, Chunka Chunka is the 15-20 minutes in between when Morning Meeting ends, and Language Arts class begins. Each day, the three Home Center teachers choose three options, and students sign up for one of the three. Options frequently include: drawing, puzzles, basketball, knitting, board games, quiet reading, or outside time.

This time of day may seem simple, and insignificant. You might even ask: are we wasting precious time at school by having students not jump right into classes?

 

We believe Chunka Chunka is in itself precious, and perhaps even sacred. First thing, every morning, students get to ask themselves: How do I want to start my day at school? Students start their day with making a choice. They feel agency and empowerment by getting to ease into the morning on their own terms.

Positive psychology and mindfulness research teaches us that when we start our day by getting into alignment with ourselves, and choosing fun and joy, that attitude sets the tone for our entire day.

When our students start their day with agency and choice, they choose to start their day with a feeling of joy. This feeling sets us up for days full of students making meaningful choices in their learning, and being primed for fun along the way.

Want to learn more about starting your morning off with joy? Click here

 

 

 

“We’re Different, We’re the Same, We’re All Beautiful”

We are over the moon for our new mural, painted generously by Chris Murray, parent of Jackson ’19 and Andrea, our current board chair!

Chris explains the mural:

“Growing up I had the privilege of living all over the world, in many different environments, with many different types of people; and I have learned that both inside and out our basic human needs and interests are common. Regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, and environment, we all need food and water; we all need to be useful and productive, and we all need to be loved. It is the beauty of our shared purpose that I tried to convey with this art. The idea for the image was originally conceived for an article I illustrated several years ago (for Harvard Business Review) on the importance of diversity in the work place.

Today it seems we need to be reminded of the things that unite us. We need to celebrate our differences. Hopefully the message is a teaching opportunity for the Bridge community and everyone else who ventures by.”

Bridge Receives Grant to Start Composting Program!

We are thrilled to share that Bridge School received a grant from the Addison County Solid Waste Management District to start a composting program! Sarah Lundquist (pictured below), Solid Waste Program Assistant, was a guest teacher in Explorations this fall. Sarah taught a full week unit about waste awareness and management.  After this inspiring class, Bridge teachers and kids decided that Bridge should be more intentional about our waste management program.

The grant will fund the building of a three-bin composting system, as well as a waste sorting system for the lunchroom. Students will help with the management of the compost, and it will also be used in classes as a catalyst for discussion and learning opportunities surrounding waste management, compost and soil cycles.

Thanks to Jen and Dave for your leadership in writing the grant and getting this program going!

A Peak Inside the Classroom: Wednesday Walks

Every Wednesday, Diane’s Language Arts class starts the day with a “Wednesday Walk”—a place-based, nature-based writing activity. This Wednesday, the walk was focused on using simile and metaphor based on the poem “The Night is a Big Black Cat” by G. Orr Clark.

The Night is a big black cat

The moon is her topaz eye,

The stars are the mice she hunts at night,

In the field of the sultry sky.

This class started with a group reading of the poem. Several students were eager to try to read it aloud in front of the class, and students patiently gave each other a turn. Along the way, Diane and the students stopped for lively discourse: What is topaz and has anyone ever seen it before? How could a sky be like a field? What clues can we use in the poem to help us guess the meaning of “sultry”? Is it related to the word “salt”? Should we use the dictionary to help us learn more?

Next, Diane explained that they would be practicing writing in the style of the poem and shared an example based on the melting snow banks outside the classroom. As Diane read, students noticed that it was fun to think of the child leading the parent!

Equipped with pencils and clipboards, students went out into the sunny morning and found something in the natural world to write about.

Many students chose to examine the melting ice rink—one student wrote that it reminded him of a frozen ocean with icebergs, while another said it reminded her of sleeping creatures:

Once each student had finished writing, the group went back inside to listen to each other’s discoveries.

This weekly ritual is elegant in its power and significance. Literacy development and community building are layered on top of student agency and creativity. This lesson is a perfect example of a Bridge School class—one where students work together, make independent choices, and stretch their creativity while learning concrete skills.

Spotlight on Traditions: Winter Week

Winter Week is: a week of unabashed fun; a phenomenal example of the talent in our community; an example of Bridge School’s focus on non-traditional learning…want to know more?

Students inside the “Quinzee” snow shelter they built.

Each year, we throw out our normal academic schedule for the week before February vacation and fill our days with electives. Taught both by Bridge School teachers, and guest teachers, there is never a dull moment during Winter Week. Instead of regular Language Arts, Math and Explorations classes, students get to choose three electives from a list of up to 12 different classes!

This year for Winter Week, students chose from:

  • Theater Games
  • Soup Cooking
  • Abstract Expressionism
  • Dutch
  • Duck Drawing (for the Junior Audubon Stamp Contest)
  • Hand Bells
  • Sewing
  • Bridge School Newspaper
  • Winter Survival
  • Health and Mindfulness

To add to the already goofy and spunky days, each day during Winter Week has a different Spirit Week theme: from pajama day, to beach day, to fancy clothing day!

Winter Week culminates with a community service fieldtrip. We spend each morning during Winter Week practicing a lineup of songs, and take our performance on the road to sing for Project Independence, an elder services day program just down the street from school.

At its core, Winter Week is about community. We tap into our network of parent and volunteer teachers to share their talents; we come together to learn new things, and we spread the fun to the community outside of school. We are already looking forward to next year!

Bridge Receives Otter Creek Audubon Society Grant!

We are thrilled to share that Bridge received an $800 grant from the Otter Creek Audubon Society! This grant money will go towards funding field trips for our Trout in the Classroom project.

This is our second year participating in Trout in the Classroom, and this year we will expand the field component of the project to a series of three spring hikes with all of our students. These field trips will help students connect the small tank of trout in our classroom to the real-world habitats of brook trout. We will visit a range of freshwater settings throughout the New Haven River watershed. Students will have the opportunity to see first hand the interconnected food webs that impact brook trout.

In his book Mapmaking with Children: Sense-of-Place Education for the Elementary Years, David Sobel implores that elementary children are not ready to learn all of the plights of the natural world. Instead, the most meaningful environmental education we can provide to develop a conservation ethic amongst youth is to help them create a sense of place.

Our field trips will give students meaningful experiences in the ecology of our shared place. The memories of these hikes combined with the specific learning they will undertake in the classroom about trout ecology will help foster responsible citizens of our shared, community waterways.

Many thanks to Otter Creek Audubon!

Strategic Plan Launch!

On a recent Friday night (not to mention that it was the first Friday night of February Vacation), Bridge School parents and teachers gathered for an evening of community and Appreciative Inquiry to launch our strategic planning process. Led by John Barstow and Ashley Cadwell we answered three central questions geared at highlighting Bridge School’s core strengths.

“Appreciative Inquiry is a way of being and seeing. It is both a worldview and a process for facilitating positive change in human systems, e.g., organizations, groups, and communities. Its assumption is simple: Every human system has something that works right–things that give it life when it is vital, effective, and successful. AI begins by identifying this positive core and connecting to it in ways the heighten energy, sharpen vision, and inspire action for change. As AI consultant Bernard J. Mohr says, “Problems get replaced with innovation as conversations increasingly shift toward uncovering the organization’s (or group’s, or community’s) positive core.” Source

 

This evening was not just your average pizza party, community gathering. The significance of our community coming together on a cold Friday night to put our heads together and plan for Bridge’s positive growth felt like an iconic symbol of what makes Bridge School unique. Our community is made up of people who, to quote Dr. Seuss, “care a whole awful lot.”

The results of this collective brainstorm will go into our strategic plan. We are thrilled to launch Bridge School into its next phase of innovative excellence in elementary education.

Spotlight on Traditions: Skiing at Rikert!

Each year, the Fall term ends with a flurry of energy poured into The Big Show. Both students and teachers give all their energy into each year’s masterpiece. Thus, arriving back from winter break can feel a little melancholy. The oldest students begin working on the script in early September, and we can all feel a little lost without the focus of the show.

Thankfully, the winter months at Bridge School are full of outdoor activity and traditions to fight the January blues. One of these traditions is weekly field trips to Rikert Nordic Center to go skiing and snowshoeing! All students and teachers suit up in warm gear and make the most of Vermont’s winters. We are lucky to not only have the privilege of skiing, but also the guidance of Rikert’s expert ski instructors. Many students go Nordic skiing for the very first time on these field trips!

These field trips are both pure fun, as well as a rich opportunity for learning outside of the classroom. Students practice working through feelings of frustration and excitement as they try something new—skills that are essential and transferable to the feelings of learning a new concept in math class, or practicing new vocabulary words in Spanish class. Furthermore, we come together as a community and practice kindness as we encourage each other, cheer on each other’s successes, and provide a helping hand when someone inevitably loses their balance. By the time skiing is over, and before we can get too blue, we’re already looking forward to Winter Week, another Bridge School tradition!