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Dreaming big for the schools

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Dreaming big for the schools

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By Debbie Bruell

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Sopris Sun Correspondent

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“There is a country where students start school at a later age … spend less time in school per day … have barely any homework … are rarely tested … .” So begins a video showcasing Finland: the country whose education system consistently ranks at the top of the world by almost every measure.

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Portions of this video and others were screened last Monday at an event organized by Our Children, Our Schools (OCOS) — an ad hoc group of parents from local private, charter and public schools and other community members who are working to spark conversations about innovative ideas in education.

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Among the many contrasts between schools in Finland and the United States, the video highlights the difference in their approach to the teaching profession. Whereas U.S. teachers today must comply with an onslaught of accountability measures, Finland’s teachers are trusted to work as professionals. “If people are trusted then they want to be worth that trust,” states one Finnish educator. “People perform better when they are trusted. … They are not controlled.”

In another video screened on Monday, Sir Ken Robinson, a world-renowned education and creativity expert, criticizes our education system’s narrow definition of what it means to be smart.

By drawing a line between “academic” and “non-academic” ability, Robinson argues, the arts and other engaging activities get devalued. Instead, Robinson says, our schools should embrace “aesthetic experiences” — experiences in which “our senses are operating at their peak, when you are present in the current moment, when you are resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing, when you are fully alive.”

By providing these kinds of experiences, Robinson believes our schools could be “waking (children) up to what they have inside of themselves.”

Unfortunately, instead of providing aesthetic experiences, Robinson says, we tend to “anaesthetize” our children, deadening their senses with “boring stuff” in classes and even drugs for ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder).

Two other videos described specific project-based programs: an Expeditionary Learning school in Portland, Maine, and Studio H, a program that guides students in designing and building some sort of structure that is needed in their community. The co-founder of Studio H is now collaborating with the Houses for Higher Education program at Roaring Fork High School.

Karen Barbee, who recently retired after teaching in the Roaring Fork district for 19 years, facilitated Monday evening’s event. Barbee told the Sun she found it difficult to leave teaching at this point in time, “just when the school district is truly opening to exploring what’s best for children.”

This fall, the Re-1 school district is working collaboratively with the community to create a new long-term vision for the schools. As a first step in this visioning process, the district is holding community meetings in Carbondale, Basalt and Glenwood. The purpose of Monday’s OCOS event, according to their literature, was to get community members to “think outside the box, explore what’s possible and participate actively in the district’s visioning process.”

The Carbondale portion of the visioning process begins next week with two district-sponsored meetings to gather information on people’s hopes and dreams for the schools. The meetings will be held Oct. 2 (in Spanish with English translation) and Oct. 3 (in English with Spanish translation) at Crystal River Elementary School. Food is provided from 5:30 to 6 p.m.; the meeting begins at 6 p.m. Free childcare is provided.

For links to the videos mentioned above visit: For more information on the district’s visioning process visit:

Debbie Bruell is a member of Our Children, Our Schools. She is also a former school board member of the Roaring Fork School District.

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