Transformative Education in Richmond Empowers Students
Aug 29, 2014 01:47PM
● By Clair Norman
photo courtesy of The New Community School
A national movement called transformative education is alive and growing in Richmond. Nationally, the concepts behind the effort began with the Transformative Action Institute, which identifies itself as a “small nonprofit startup with a mighty mission: to teach the most effective methods for how people can transform their lives and the world.” The institute seeks to honor the individual and their unique world experience while co-creating strategies and skills for personal, social and societal change. Innovative activities, exercises and seminars are a few of the transformative action tools.
Transformational learning promotes strategies to improve the quality of life for individuals and the community. In her book, Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning, Patricia Cranton says the special type of learning involves the expansion of consciousness through the transformation of one’s basic worldview and specific capacities of the self. The goal is to effectively bring out the creative potential of the individual and to empower a bold and satisfying life that can cause individual and societal transformation. Cranton describes three types of changes during this expansion: psychological (self-understanding), convictional (belief system) and behavioral (lifestyle). These concepts are certainly not brand new. They started getting real legs in educational settings in the 1970s and 1980s. The trend is now gaining momentum with a new face; and in Richmond, new opportunities for this type of education are plentiful.
The Montessori Center for the Child, in Chesterfield, is the only Montessori education option on the Southside and serves children ages 2-and-a-half to 12. The diverse student population comprises a variety of religious, political, cultural and economic backgrounds. Sarah McDowell, the head of school, refers to her students as “organic”, “heirloom” and “homegrown”, encapsulating how she seeks to honor each student’s individual capabilities. Founded in the early 1900s by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori, the Montessori Method encourages a lifelong love of learning, preparing students to continue their educational journey with inspiration and a keen respect for the Earth and all its inhabitants. The neuroscience-based approach gives no standardized tests, promotes a low teacher-to-student ratio and encourages tremendous freedom of movement throughout the school day. The approach seems to be an incubator for innovation that changes the world. One famous alumnus of a Montessori-based education is Larry Page, founder of Google. Another is Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. It seems that a transformative educational environment, such as the one at Montessori Center for the Child, can lead to transformative accomplishments.
Spiritos School, in Midlothian, is dedicated to improving the quality of life for youth with autism and their families. The staff works closely with the children and their families to develop individualized plans based on the students’ carefully assessed, unique skill sets and needs. The approach entwines neuroscience and applied behavior analysis to enable autistic students to successfully transition to more mainstream learning environments. Echoing the philosophy that undergirds transformative education, Spiritos recognizes that individuals with degrees of autism have unique, profound gifts and can be empowered to change and direct their lives along a positive path to benefit their community and society as a whole.
Janet Lachowsky, the school’s director, notes that although the Transformative Action Institute is just gaining momentum, Spiritos has been engaged in transformative education for quite some time and it is something she is passionate about. She says of her students, “They are very unique and very smart in more than a few ways.” The Spiritos staff provide individualized support in an atmosphere of love and acceptance, combining synergistic therapies to teach children independence and how to achieve great things.
The New Community School, on Hermitage Road near Bryan Park, empowers students that are challenged by dyslexia and related language-based learning differences. The innovative and research-based college preparatory curriculum utilizes a customized educational approach to build skills in language and math and to foster academic and personal strengths in a way that ignites the passions and gifts of unique minds.
Dan Stackhouse, director of development at New Community says, “Before coming to New Community, many of our students are on a downward slope, academically and emotionally. For years, they have been told that they are smart, but they simply need to try harder… to ‘apply’ themselves… and that college and a successful life are not realistic options. Due to their dyslexia, their skills do not match their intelligence.” New Community exists to reverse those trends by bringing skills in line with bright minds. In addition, self-esteem is rebuilt as dyslexic students experience, often for the first time, what it feels like to be a successful student.
Richmond is home to many schools on the leading edge of transformative education concepts. They share the idea of advancing individuals toward a more cohesive, authentic and bold life using their unique inborn set of skills and opportunities. Then, the positive results from nurturing effective, productive and confident individuals can be applied in the community and society to truly change the world.
Montessori Center for the Child, 122 N. Courthouse Rd., Chesterfield. 804-794-8661. MontessoriCenterForTheChild.org.
Spiritos School, 400 Coalfield Rd., Midlothian. 804-897-7440. SpiritosSchool.com.
The New Community School, 4211 Hermitage Rd., Richmond. 804-266-2494. TNCS.org.
Clair Norman is assistant editor and a staff writer for Natural Awakenings Richmond.