Willits Elementary Charter School
A Free K-5 Alternative
We worked with our master teachers to develop our own inquiry-based curriculum.
The following is exerted from our approved charter petition:
Description of Our Educational Program
Our educational program is designed to honor the developmental milestones and stages of the school-age child. According to the developmental psychologist, Erik Erikson, in elementary school, children are trying to develop a sense of self-worth by refining their skills. This translates into the classroom by creating an environment where progress is measured by comparing each child’s learning and growth to themselves over time, rather than all children being expected to achieve the same result at the same time. Especially in the early grades when reading and mathematic skills are being introduced, teachers need to address many skill levels within one classroom. By providing individualized attention, varied forms of instruction to meet the needs of multiple learning styles (auditory, visual, tactile/kinesthetic), and supporting the idea of multiple intelligences, the needs of each individual student are met. As students grasp concepts and master skills, they become more confident and engaged in their learning.
Children participate in a well-rounded curriculum that includes instruction in academic fields such as science, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and foreign language. Arts such as music, drama, dance, drawing, sculpture, painting, crafts, handiwork, and gardening are also an integral part of the curriculum. Practical life skills are integrated into the curriculum. Time for play and physical movement are structured into each school day. Students have opportunities to use technology in the classroom but care is taken to introduce technology in such a way that it supports, not supplants, creativity and the development of academic and interpersonal skills. An effort is made to introduce cultural diversity into all core academic subjects, arts, and physical education.
Foreign language instruction is treated as a core acade
mic subject, with partial Spanish immersion as part of all students’ education. Spanish is the primary language of focus because we believe that fluency in Spanish is essential for success in the changing demographics of California. Other languages will be brought into the classroom when appropriate to the cultural heritage of the student body or topics of study.
Our charter school has a strong emphasis on community. Students develop the skills needed to relate to others, listen effectively, and see themselves as part of a larger entity. Students are encouraged to be involved in their school, local, regional, and global communities. Students have opportunities to participate in positive, structured interactions with area middle school students, high school students, college students, professionals, and community members.
Wonder what inquiry-based learning looks like in action? Here's one example:
Geodes and crystals have been very popular during "show and tell" this year among second-grade students at Willits Elementary Charter School (WECS). Fascinated by the different colors and shapes, students became curious to learn how crystals are formed. WECS second-grade teacher Christine Felton helped students to grow their own Epsom salt crystals in class and encouraged them to grow their own crystals at home. Students and parents got some great results using sugar, sea salt, alum, and Borax.
Parent Ashley Sherf (also a teacher at WECS) noted, “My daughter loved this project! She started asking great questions, wondering about what might have affected the crystal’s growth such as temperature and other environmental factors.”
“My goal is to get kids to think like scientists, analyzing the results of their experiments and communicating what they learned," says Felton. "When they get to third grade, they will be doing independent science projects. We practice that process as a class so it will be familiar to them next year."
The WECS fifth-graders are "big buddies" to the second-graders, so fifth-grade teacher Megan Wolf had her students teach the second-graders what they had recently learned about the science of mixtures and how to make a solutions. The two teachers collaborated so that the fifth-grade students could help second-graders hypothesize how to separate the salt from the water in a saltwater solution.
As this month's Science Fair approached, Felton’s second-graders began using the scientific method to do a controlled experiment, starting with a hypothesis, designing an experiment, looking at variables, and recording data. They will end by analyzing their results and drawing conclusions before sharing their experiment with other classrooms -- always the final step in the project-based learning model that WECS embraces.
The exploration continued with a classroom presentation by second-grade parent Vince Sims, a glassblower with a vast collection of crystals and stones. "When parents share their expertise in the classroom, student learning deepens," says Felton. "They forget they are in school and get wrapped up in the experience." Felton has also planned a field trip to George’s Geodes and Gem Store at 600 S. Main Street to show students even more examples of crystals.