Respect for children and trust in their inherent enthusiasm for learning shape the way we live in our school community and are central to the design of our educational processes and objectives. Our purpose is to cultivate independent thinking, protect students' natural joy and passion for learning, and to preserve their sense of creativity, curiosity, and self-esteem. The interplay of our passionately held values creates the signature Sparhawk experience and allows students to flourish.
We happily acknowledge that every person in our school has something to teach as well as to learn; therefore, we encourage a variety of social learning formats. We assume that children, as well as adults, can meaningfully contribute to their world, solving problems, providing factual information, teaching skills to others, and generally offering insights; so we listen carefully to children’s ideas; and in turn, they willingly learn from us. At other times, children and adults can enjoy a peer relationship in studying or discovering things new to each. Most important though, we celebrate and honor the notion that children can successfully teach themselves and one another.
We value both formal and informal learning and teaching styles, and group and tutorial approaches; and, it is our belief that self-initiated learning enables a child to study with the most enthusiasm and commitment, leading to more sustained interest and grasp of a subject than can be externally assigned. And the level of mastery achieved when a child is self-motivated, as well as the degree of retention, can be powerful. Self-initiated study, however, requires the use of fundamental skills that are ordinarily acquired through focused study with a coach, whether peer or adult, in a small group, or one-on-one. For this reason, We choose organized, but not solely traditional ways of presenting the fundamentals of reading, writing, and computation.
As children learn the mechanics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, for example, they are acquiring what are called academic skills; and when they are taught new information in a specific subject area and memorize facts, they are increasing their academic knowledge base. This is the style of instruction traditionally associated with schooling. There is, however, another aspect of learning that is less widely understood and fostered even though, ultimately, it is more important. We call this component intellectual activity, for it is based on experiences that exercise a child’s evolving ability to think.
Materials made available to children for intellectual activities are those that tap the child’s natural curiosity. We describe these materials as open-ended or extensional, because they have inherent qualities for change and reconfiguration, can be used in many forms and in many ways, are challenging at all levels of experience and knowledge, and they invite children’s individual stamp of creation. Sand, water, clay, wood, fabric, paper, and blocks are examples. When investigation is supported with tools, their possibilities are virtually limitless. Items such as pulleys, incline planes, levers, wheels, magnets, measuring instruments, and magnifiers help children study and transform raw materials physically or in their imagination.
Experiences with these materials, frequently dismissed as “just play,” are those that allow young children to seek answers to their own “Why?” and “What would happen if?” questions. They encourage children to be active learners who observe their natural and social world thoughtfully, learn to describe and classify their perceptions, pose questions and form hypotheses, test their ideas, reflect, draw conclusions, and solve problems. In short, children work as scientists or artist do – seeking an ever more adequate understanding of their world. In largely teacher-directed programs, children learn what the teacher believes to be true and answer the teacher’s questions. In an environment prepared to support intellectual activity, children can raise and answer their own questions as well. This heuristic process helps children come to trust their own ability to generate knowledge, in contrast to receiving it solely from adults or from books.
Play that is an end in itself is also an important component of our program. It is the “work” of childhood and, as such, we value and support it as much as formal study. Healthy, happy children play spontaneously and tirelessly when given the opportunity and, through play, they learn from everything. Typically, however, our culture treats play and study as mutually exclusive domains when, in fact, they synergistically reinforce one another in necessary and powerful ways. In the process of playing, principles about the physical and social world are discovered serendipitously, in a manner that no formal curriculum can replicate; and these serendipitous events build a perceptual foundation for grasping principles on a conceptual level. Play is the “independent study” of the younger children, and the concrete complement of the older children’s more abstract work. And of course, play is important simply because it is a strong, natural human need that can only be forcefully denied. We choose to honor, not oppose, children’s healthy needs and interests.
Because we wish our children to become self-governors, at Sparhawk School children are given the opportunity to take an active role in managing their own lives and their school. All issues affecting life at school, such as rules, responsibilities, and sanctions, are discussed at meetings where each member of the school community, child and adult alike, participates. Over time, the limits of normal childhood egocentricity are learned as children interact in a rational social context, and come to understand, value, and internalize the reasonable expectations of their culture. Participation in school management enhances cooperation because it empowers children and vests them with responsibility, a trust that most children wish to merit. Where children share in decision-making, they have little reason to rebel. Where children have legitimate power, they learn its judicious use. Where children have personal freedom, they learn to respect the rights of others.
Ours is a program, then, that honors children, values inquiry, encourages exploration, allows for innovation, and celebrates ideas. Children in our school gain skills that allow them to be self-initiating, self-directing learners, as well as joyful, responsible, and independent beings. Above all, this is the measure of our success.
We believe that students of all ages are endowed, by nature, with enthusiasm for learning that can be cultivated, or even renewed, in our emotionally supportive, resource-rich, and creative environment. It is Sparhawk’s mission to manifest this potential.
We happily acknowledge that every person in our school has something to teach as well as to learn; therefore, we encourage a variety of social learning formats. We assume that students, as well as teachers, can meaningfully contribute to their world by raising questions, providing factual information, teaching skills to others, and generally offering insights. We listen carefully to students' ideas, and in turn, they willingly learn from us. Students and teachers also, at times, enjoy a peer relationship in studying or discovering things new to each. Most significantly though, we honor and celebrate the notion that students can, with support and preparation, successfully teach themselves. This is, after all, the paramount goal of education. Knowledge is infinite. Students must learn HOW to learn.
We value both formal and informal learning and teaching styles, and group and tutorial approaches; and within each, students are encouraged to actively participate, that is to engage in the learning process rather than act as passive recipients. Within each curriculum experience, there is not only opportunity for students to acquire knowledge directly from teachers and other traditional resources, but, the requirement that, within clear criteria designed to ensure focused outcomes, students make choices about means to those ends that best suit their needs and interests.
For some students, this step takes time and guidance; but it is one of our principal values; and it is critical to successes at Sparhawk and beyond. Furthermore, it is our belief that self-initiated learning enables a student to study with the most enthusiasm and commitment, leading to a more enduring interest and grasp of a subject than can be externally assigned. The level of mastery achieved when a student is self-motivated, as well as the degree of retention, can be powerful.
The ability to engage in self-initiated study, with the sustained effort necessary for success, varies from student to student. Certainly, by adolescence most children are developmentally prepared; but as with any complex skill-set, guidance as well as opportunities to practice are essential. These are integral to our curriculum design and, in general, to life at school.
Academic guidance toward this goal consists of help in understanding the journey ahead, discussion about the first steps to take, and the development of mutually respectful collaborations with adults and peers wherein reflection safely occurs, and incremental achievement is celebrated. Of course, the words used above to describe academic guidance also apply to emotional guidance. Here too, students need to understand that growth is incremental, one small step after another; they need to know where to be gin; they need questions answered; and they must have effort and success acknowledged.
What differentiates Sparhawk School’s curriculum from that of many other schools is its emphasis on a balance between what we call “academic” curriculum and “intellectual” curriculum. As students learn the mechanics of reading, writing, and mathematics, for example, they are acquiring what are called academic skills; and when they are taught new information in a specific subject area and memorize facts, they are increasing their academic knowledge base. This is the style of instruction traditionally associated with schooling. There is, however, another aspect of learning that is less widely understood and fostered, although, ultimately, it is more important. We call this component “intellectual activity”, for it is based in experiences that exercise a student’s evolving ability to think. Intellectual activity is the hallmark of our purpose.
Rather than defining the intellect of a student according to the static and finite concept of aptitude, and setting our expectations by that, at Sparhawk School we set in motion experiences that allow both fledgling abilities and areas of strength to flourish – to grow. Our students are challenged to apply their knowledge, skills, and talents. As clay is not a sculpture until the artist acts upon it, students must construct meaning from what they receive in order to contour their understanding. Habits of mind are thereby cultivated, and this optimizes nature’s gift.
To innovate in this manner demands more than just the appropriation of skills and facts. Students must learn to be aware of the latent connections and potential applications that can be gleaned from their knowledge and experience. This awareness provides structure, context, and meaning for the information accumulated. Also, students must learn to invest their intellectual energy based on their intrinsic needs and goals. The resulting success provides the fuel for persisting through the challenges that intellectual activity promises. Equipped with awareness and motivation, students can experience joy and effort as one. The fruits of intellectual activity are as diverse and profound as the individuals who harvest them.
Our high school curriculum reflects these priorities. Curriculum designed to encourage intellectual engagement in students taps their innate curiosity – the natural interests of human beings of any age. We describe these challenges as open-ended or extensional, because they have inherent qualities for change and reconfiguration. They can be used in many forms and in many ways, are challenging at all levels of experience and knowledge, and invite each student’s individual stamp of creation.
In order to provide extensional learning experiences, Sparhawk does not limit learning to the confines of traditional academic disciplines. Much of our curriculum is necessarily interdisciplinary, drawing deeply from an array of scholarly domains and highlighting the ways in which these domains interact. Because the scope of content in any area of study is limitless, our Humanities Themes provide frames of reference for the integration of vast amounts of knowledge and for cross-domain insights necessary for effective consideration of mighty ideas. Consider the theme as a canvas, Knowledge as the palette of paints, and skills as the brushes. These are the essential elements of a painting, yet they are only activated and brought to life by the inspiration of the artist. At Sparhawk, it is our intention to nurture that inspiration in every student.
The intellectual calling of the adolescent is to practice and hone higher-thinking skills to bolster their burgeoning metacognition. From forming inferences, to discriminating among ideas, to making choices grounded in evidence, to acknowledging their own subjectivity, high school students need to weave their own tapestry of understanding, integrating the fabrics of their own ideas with those of peers and teachers, and also with the diverse theoretical material of the great innovators, experts, humanitarians, artists, and visionaries of our global culture.
Adolescents require the freedom to venture independently into the seas of possibility that exist for them. They also need a safe harbor to which they may return for confirmation, celebration, and reassuring support. Sparhawk is such an intellectual and emotional haven. Here there is a beacon community ready to guide and share in the complex journey to adulthood.
Sparhawk students are willing to learn.
Courageous in the face of unknowns, they are wiling to ask questions and persevere until understanding comes.
Sparhawk students respect themselves enough to do their best, or hold that as a goal.
They understand their abilities, optimize their strengths and excel, and through diligence, they cultivate success in other areas of importance.
Success leads to confidence and confidence is a feeling that endows happiness.
Sparhawk students treat peers and adults with the kindliness they deserve.
They look for and lovingly support one another's virtues and have patience with one another's growth.
Sparhawk students count their blessings, realizing and celebrating the riches we have.
Louise Stilphen | Headmaster & Founder
Respect for children and trust in their inherent enthusiasm for learning are central to the design of Sparhawk School's educational processes and objectives. Our purpose is to provide a foundation of academic strength, to facilitate critical and creative thinking and to nurture qualities of character in our students that will sustain them throughout their lifetimes, whatever challenges and adventures may come.