“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

Debbie Houston 3Welcome to the 2013-14 school year! As a young learner, I loved the beginning of a new school year—new pencils and folders and the opportunity to be with old friends and make new friends too. The new school year brought excitement for new adventures and amazing discoveries and for the sheer joy of learning. My school in Dinwiddie County, Virginia knew how to instill that love of learning into a challenging and yet fun curriculum. My first grade teacher was an angel and knew how to motivate, encourage and build confidence. By second grade my classmates and I were performing in front of the school, during my third grade year, we had a huge nest full of Praying Mantises hatch in our room (there were thousands of them running around our classroom), and we made a 6 feet by 3 feet relief map during my fifth grade year! School was a place where my teachers read aloud to us every day and took us on adventures far away. We had daily recess and played on the playground, hiked in the woods and all eventually met the challenge and climbed the “Big Rock” too. I loved school, and I loved to learn. Perhaps for some of you, your school experiences were filled with joyful, hands-on, challenging and motivating learning experiences that have instilled in you that joy of learning.

For others, a new school year may have brought a sense of hope—that this year would be different; that you would do better; that your teacher would be nicer or that you would not fail the test. Maybe your school was more rigid and about following strict rules instead of about releasing the natural curiosity and creativity in you. Perhaps your school was about drilling and memorizing facts rather than about lighting a fire and using higher level thinking skills. Some of you have learned despite your school experiences. Where did we ever get the idea that you have to drill and cram learning into a child who was created with a natural wonder and curiosity? Where did we get the idea that it’s good to have fun learning when you are very young, but that learning fun has to stop? Is education only about grades, standardized tests or getting on the Honor Roll or is it much deeper than this?

In addition to my title quote by William Butler Yeats, two of my favorite quotes about education are from John Dewey, the father of education: “Were all instructors to realize that the quality of mental process, not the production of correct answers, is the measure of educative growth something hardly less than a revolution in teaching would be worked.” (from Democracy and Education) and “The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.” (from Experience and Education). Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, in their book, A New Culture of Learning, refer to an education as “a desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends.”

At Chance School, your children will not only learn at high levels, they will actually experience the real joy of learning! One of the things that middle school teachers and counselors tell us is that Chance School graduates are not only successful, but THEY LOVE TO LEARN.

Teachers here are expert motivators and encouragers. In fact, they create innovators. Here, we learn all about your children and know what helps them to grow, develop and learn beyond their own and often their parents’ wildest imaginations. Teachers know how to challenge students to learn and they nurture them to want to. Here, children are loved, and they know it. Children have a voice and are listened to. Children are given choices and learn how to make good ones. Here, children are assessed using authentic and both formal and informal ways.

Chance School is not a “Read the chapter and do questions 1, 3, 5 and 7 at the end.” We are not a “Do the ditto sheets” over and over. We are not a “Write your name on the board and get two more checks and we call your parents”. We are not a “You’re an A Student or C Student because your Report Card says so”. We are not a “Sit in your desk and stop talking” school. We are not “It’s January, and we all read Mr. Popper’s Penguins in January.” In fact, we are not about filling a pail unless it is with sand from our sandbox, water or rocks during a science lesson, or with vegetables from our Learning Greenhouse.

So what are we?

This year, just like every other year since Virginia Chance started our school in 1958, the children of Chance School will experience a school that is intent on their becoming innovators; a school that believes in them, sees them as capable, and helps them learn to believe in themselves. Children will be actively engaged in their learning and will become responsible learners. Answering questions, thinking, processing, creating and problem solving will be a consistent part of their learning every day. The children will be learning not just cognitively, but also socially and emotionally, physically and even morally. We know our students can excel beyond a pre-determined grade or age level so children will be challenged to reach their full potential. Students learn how to treat others the way they want to be treated, and children are treated with dignity and respect here. Once again, children will be experiencing deep and lasting learning and making discoveries today that will last them a lifetime. Students will not only learn; they will LOVE to learn, and those who love to learn never stop.

Committed to lighting a fire,

Debbie Houston
Head of School