Middle School Director
The magic of Sweetland is students are really at the center of their learning, and by being at the center, they are driving the curriculum and they are engaged on multiple levels.
FACTS & FIGURES
Young learners served
Young learners who qualify for financial aid
Just a taste. That’s all it took for parents in Hope, Maine to recognize the impact learner-centered education could have on their children. A new community art center (founded in 2012) run by Lindsay Pinchbeck was providing learner-centered experiences the children couldn’t get enough of. Pinchbeck led the work with a simple philosophy: “Art can be shared by all ages and all abilities on many levels—we create as active participants, engage as observers and share experiences together enriching our lives and building empathy when we explore the world through the Arts.”
What if “art” was replaced by “learning”? How might the paradigm of education completely shift? These questions, posed in myriad ways by Sweetland School parents, gave Pinchbeck enough reason to believe creating a full-time learner-centered environment was possible. And, given the amount of support she received from the families she was serving, her imagination went from “someday” to “the time is now.”
Sweetland School was founded in 2014—serving six young learners out of the gate. They now serve 25-30 young people (aged 5-13) with a focus on slow, intentional growth that doesn’t deteriorate the fidelity of their Regio Emelia-inspired, learner-centered model. Families can have their children attend three, four, or five days a week—registering their children as “homeschooled” if less than five. Sweetland School is driven “to encourage confident, resilient and creative individuals” who see learning as a lifelong pursuit that can make them “compassionate stewards in our world.”
With this mission in mind, there is a strong focus on cultivating learner agency, regardless of age. And, the results speak volumes to just how much self-awareness and social capacity can be attained by the youngest of learners. Take, for instance, the community impact Sweetland learners made in the realm of alternative energy.
After learning about how solar power could produce electricity—not to mention its positive environmental impact—members at the school wanted to find out why their town wasn’t investing in such infrastructure. Thanks to the let-learning-lead-the-way philosophy at Sweetland, the young learners attended a local town meeting and asked elected leaders why solar power was absent in Hope.
The answers they received were unsatisfactory, so they started pushing for change by collecting signatures from the community and contacting each signatory by phone to encourage attendance at the next town meeting. Over 200 people attended—the largest attendance of a Hope town meeting in some time. And, now, the town is making it a priority to bring solar power in as soon as possible.
With a community-centered lens, Sweetland learners are able to engage in socially embedded and open-walled learning that reaches far beyond conventional ideas like group projects and field trips. If a group of young learners is excited by a topic, they are given the opportunity to explore it in-depth without the time-based restrictions that often arise from rigid bell schedules or narrowly focused curricula. This allows Sweetland learners to see how their learning applies to the world around them and understand the combined power of autonomy and collaboration (between peers and the broader community alike).
As Sweetland School continues advancing their learner-centered practice, they want to find the perfect balance between honoring multiple intelligences; engaging students through thematic, project-based opportunities; and providing direct instruction when necessary. When they had the chance to experience even a hint of what learner-centered learning had to offer, it simply made sense to Sweetland parents. And, their experience is yet another proof point that when learner-centered education is accessible and available, families say, “This is what we’ve been looking for.”
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