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The Greenhouse School: Some Things We Believe

The Greenhouse School

Fall Festival was a Great Success

Thanks for coming in to take a peek inside “the place with the flags,” participating in our raffle and auction, kids’ room, face painting and other activities. Our silent auction was available online for the first time in our history, and we received many high bids.

Thanks to all the local artisans who donated handmade soaps, jewelry, pottery, sculpture and artwork. This event wouldn’t be possible without their help and the help of all the volunteers who spent the weekend with us.

Some Things We Believe

On openness with structure

Our school is a unique and fascinating place. We know that we are something of an anomaly, and people sometimes are unsure just what to make of us. We are open all day and year round, and serve a large age range, yet we are not a day care center. We choose a year-round setting because it allows us to be at once more rigorous and more paced in our exploration with students, and because we reject the agrarian calendar as an unnecessary throwback. In our view, children don’t need much of a break, aside from usual vacations, from swimming, gardening, math, art, music and reading. Would that we as adults were all so burdened.

We are an independent school, yet we are not wealthy, and we serve a diverse range of students including many from low-income families. We welcome and insist on parent involvement, but we are not a play group or a coop. Parents have more access to classrooms than in any school we know; but we insist that teachers be let to do their job with as little parent hovering as possible. Above all, we are often described as an alternative school; yet we are not a school without rules. Not only do we feel strongly that a school needs rules; we are not afraid of the oft-dreaded word obey: children need to obey rules just as adults need to obey laws, whether we agree with them or not.

Children can learn to balance Freedom and responsibility early on

Perhaps equating “obedience” with “servility,” parents sometimes fail to impose reasonable and essential limits on children’s behavior, choices, and desires. In our view, the balance between freedom and responsibility begins to be learned at a very early age; mastering self-control and interpersonal relationships early leads to an adult society of self-aware, responsible and caring world citizens. We agree with Maria Montessori that learning should be child-centered, but we do not believe in an institution run by children, a common pitfall of both proponents and detractors of the concept of the open classroom and integrated curriculum. Likewise, we reject as a false dichotomy the split between “developmental” and “academic” settings, convinced by decades of successful application that children can be learning (by which we mean absorbing academic concepts of math and language) without sitting in rows all day, and can explore their own self-expression without playing dress up all day long. We believe with Piaget that “thinking is child’s play,” and feel strongly that there is no such thing as “too early” to begin this process. Our founder is fond of saying “the earlier they learn to read, the more they read and the more they will have read by the time they reach third grade,” which by many measures is a pivotal point for later success in school and life.

Along similar lines, we find that children need structure and discipline early. Those children who are burdened with too many choices at age two are often out of control by age six. We realize that many families have more lax rules in their own home, and are happy to accept this two-track system as long as school remains special and apart in this regard. As with our academic standards, we believe in enforcing school behavior that is respectful and cognizant of other members of the group from early on. We do not find that adherence to simple rules hinders either creativity or self-expression: on the contrary, our kids consistently win awards and accolades for artwork which astonishes many adult observers.

Center of Learning first and foremost

We are, first and foremost, a center of learning, and everything from our schedule to our policies reflects the centrality of this premise. Clothing is a form of expression and identity, but mostly for parents: if this takes precedence over learning, then learning suffers. In fact, we are not philosophically averse to the idea of a simple uniform—we just haven’t made that decision yet. Nutrition is essential, and our meals and snacks are usually low in fat and sugar, and almost always vegetarian. But we don’t go overboard, and generally don’t accommodate lifestyle choices—with exceptions for allergies and religious observance—beyond the choice of sandwich a child brings to school. With all the pressures on and choices available to parents today, they sometimes focus on elements extraneous to the learning process—a trend we feel can easily lead us away from our central purpose.

We are aware that our quirky little school is not for everybody. We also realize that some who find that, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, reports of our ‘crunchiness’ may have been exaggerated, might be surprised or even put off by a strictness they didn’t expect. In this case, the earlier and clearer the better, of course. It is always a question of balance; perhaps the best rules of thumb are by analogy to dealing with children, with which all of us are familiar. All of us know from experience that it can sometimes be a nightmare getting children to bed; we have all occasionally been drawn into a snit with a two year old; and who among us hasn’t felt some occasional guilt at reprimanding a child. That said, those who find imposing bedtime routines to be anathema, find arguing or reasoning with two-year olds to be a productive use of time, or find regulating a child’s behavior akin to crushing his or her spirit might find our environment a little more ‘structured’ than ‘open.’

We have been described as a sort of “treehouse,” an extended homeschool (if you have 30 or 40 kids!), a slice of Europe or Africa on the North Shore, and many more. None quite fits, and we are happy to keep being successful at just being who we are. If this makes sense to you, please consider joining us.

the greenhouse school is a year-round private alternative school in Salem, Massachusetts, for kids from infancy through grade eight, the greenhouse school is committed to true, lasting, comprehensive reform in education. However, also central to the idea of reform for us is the notion of access.

Open every day and year round, we strive to serve the broadest possible base from several nearby communities, providing an environment diverse in language, culture, class, race and learning style.

Take a tour of our school…

the greenhouse school

145 Loring Avenue, Salem, Massachusetts 01970 · (978) 745-4549

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