Letter from Ed: Head of School

Photo/Andrew Murdock

When we were in West Virginia this past summer, Cathy and I did a significant amount of cleaning. Our cabin had been shuttered for nearly four months, with only occasional weekend getaway use by one of our children. As many of us do, with the tedium of the task at hand, my mind began to wander, eventually settling in on the intricacy and variety of the spider webs lacing the wood work under the backyard deck. In the process of clearing them, I started to notice that the strength of the web did not appear to be solely a component of the silken threads, but relied heavily on its design. When I broke a single strand of the web with my broom, it actually appeared to become stronger rather than weaken. I imagined this engineered web quality allowed spiders to repair the web, while still being able to capture prey for sustenance.

I believe AVS has many qualities similar to those of a spider’s web. Founded in 2010 on the strength of a few intrepid families that believed there was a better way for children to learn, we set out to build a curriculum, engineered to support each aspect of the learning process. It’s based on the idea that children are far more capable than many schools have acknowledged, and that the best way to learn is through the experience of doing. Like a spider’s web, the curriculum is intricately connected and supportive of the process, and of our students. A spider’s web is unique to the species, and so the Alta Vista curriculum and manner of teaching is unique to our school.

Like a spider’s web, each strand of our spiraling, interconnected curriculum supports the other strands, but yet is able to support itself by engaging students in the process of understanding. The phrase, “the Alta Vista Way,” has become the beacon guiding further development and implementation of our approach. With an innovative and creative faculty leading and supporting the learning process, our young school is creating a strong foundation for students to grow in ability, and into the boundless possibilities of the future.

When we started the school, a substrate of support was built to carry the load of growth. Year after year more families joined the school making it the wonderful place it is today, but stressing our foundation.

We now find ourselves at the angle of repose for the needs of our school. The growth rate of AVS has stressed our initial foundation, and we need others to step up in support. Much like the placement of a spider’s silken threads in the design of their web provides strength, support for our Middle School building and development project provides us with a broader base to grow from and lessen the probability of regression.

I have made AVS the focus of all my energies since its founding. I believe that with our faculty and parent community we have built an outstanding school. Now is the time to ensure that our school will continue to provide opportunities for our current students and for the generation of students to follow. The focus for the next few years is our growth into the Middle School and to continue the process of constant improvement in the Lower School, and thus leave a legacy of progressive, experience based education into the future.


Feed the Curiosity: Monday & Friday meetings

“When you make the finding yourself — even if you are the last person on Earth to see the light — you will never forget it.” – Carl Sagan

Children learn best through their own curiosity and by their own experience. It is with this in mind that we have our morning Monday and Friday community meetings at Alta Vista School.

These meetings are separate from the excellent, stimulating, structured educational environment of the classroom. We think it is important to also provide more open-ended opportunities for students to make connections between lessons and observations, making learning and thinking an active, visible experience.

Monday mornings are very special at AVS. During morning meeting, Junior Kindergarten- through Fourth Grade students gather for a little science: a demonstration or explanation of a physical phenomenon, or an example of how to deal with failure and the small setbacks in life.

For example, at a recent Monday morning meeting, one of our parents explained the composition of DNA, and then separated a few strands for us based on the weight and polarity of the strands. It was fascinating, and generated interesting questions from students of all developmental ranges.

On another morning, the presentation focused on the inner workings of a cell, and was accompanied by an entrancing, animated video that looked like something out of an upcoming science fiction movie. The focus was to generate curiosity, and did it ever. The students ooh’d and aah’d as they saw a cell’s nucleus and then how a leukocyte works to heal a cut. They asked all sorts of thoughtful questions that showed their nimble and flexible thinking.

Many times the morning meeting, through science, tries to teach a lesson about the value of failure and the resilience needed to work toward success. Sometimes I will purposefully attempt a new procedure without vetting the outcome, knowing that there is a significantly high probability of failure. And when that happens, students gain an understanding that failure is a critical component of learning, understanding, and mastering a concept. Try; fail. Try again. Fail better. Learn. Try again. And again. Succeed.

When you can, I encourage you to join us on Monday or Friday mornings. Then, help us build on the culture of thinking and wonderment by continuing the conversation at home.