The Birch School
Rock Tavern, NY
Birch is a place where I get to have my say. When I have the talking stick during circle, I can tell everyone what I think, and I know the kids and the adults are actually listening to me. That’s how we solve problems at Birch.
FACTS & FIGURES
Free and Reduced Lunch
Imagine if your work was split up in eight 50-minute increments every day. And, at the end of each 50-minute period, you had to stop what you were doing and move on to a different task. Would you thrive within this work environment?
The founders of The Birch School—nature camp leaders as well as certified educators by trade—knew this rigid structure would never serve them well. After receiving rave reviews for their summer programs year-after-year, they wondered what a year-round place of learning would look like if it upheld the same principles as the two-week long camp sessions. If a learning environment was founded on such ecological principles as adaptability and diversity and an underlying sense of community, what outcomes might be realized?
The Birch School was built to answer this question. Since their founding, one of their guiding beliefs is that every day has a unique rhythm and deserves a framework that can adapt to it. That’s why they are focused on building a learning culture around “flow.” If their young learners are deeply engaged in an activity, the minute hand isn’t going to dictate when they should stop.
Eliminating the conventional use of time within a learning environment immediately builds a foundation of learner agency. Learners are challenged to remain present to whether or not their time is being used effectively and can request to switch tasks when they feel doing so will best serve their learning needs.
The comfort and confidence ask for what they need is driven by The Birch School’s focus on amplifying every young learner’s voice. From age seven to 17, this mixed-age, socially embedded learning environment ensures everyone can contribute to the community they are building together. This creates an environment where every individual values themselves enough to take risks, make mistakes, and accelerate their learning by failing forward.
There is no better example than a the young man who came to The Birch School as a high school freshman in a last ditch effort to rediscover the joy of learning. During his first few days, he kept to himself and showed little interest in engaging. Then, he and his peers spent the day at a ropes course, a school activity designed to engage the group in problem solving. In his element outside the walls of a school building, the young learner broke his shell wide open.
It turns out that although he was not visibly engaged on the first few days, he had been soaking in the sense of community that is so present at The Birch School. The proof of this was exhibited through his unexpected display of leadership during the problem solving challenges on the course. He offered assistance to peers struggling to climb up the ropes and helped the others to figure out how best to approach the task at hand. This demonstration of leadership didn’t stop at the ropes course; this young man, formerly disengaged and unexcited, became a leader at The Birch School. By the time he graduated, his mentors joked he would have been voted mayor of the entire learning environment had such a position existed.
The Birch School focus on community-created values and ecological principles has proven itself in the creation of an holistic, learner-centered environment. They have cultivated a space and atmosphere in which learning and learners thrive. As they continue to grow, they look forward to seeing more learners discover who they are and show that identity off to the world in everything they do.
Learn More From The Birch School
Pioneers are everywhere
Explore learner-centered environments nationwide.
Tour a reimagined world of learning×
Imagine what a community-based ecosystem of learning might look like in your own backyard through The Big Idea! Videos, stories, conversation starters, and more.