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The Greenhouse School: Inside the School

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.

Inside the greenhouse school

Students outside with flags in the background

Our famous flags

The school was founded in 1983 by Patricia Jennings-Welch, a lifelong leader and devotee of education, beginning with her own eight children. The Founder’s vision draws from an eclectic mix of Piaget, Montessori, Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner, Gardner and her own philosophies, allowing that each would have grown and changed given infinite lifespan and accepting none as the holder of absolute truth.

The school is rooted in the tradition of programs that have developed in response to the need for change in the traditional schools. Unlike much of the experimental movement, however, the Greenhouse School has chosen to ground itself in the community. In the “normal” world of private schooling, schools use high tuitions supplemented by a base of wealthy support and access to capital. Our model, while exciting and innovative, leaves us more at the mercy of the economy and the “kindness of strangers” than many of our counterparts. Our mission focuses primarily, though not exclusively, on serving lower-income and immigrant families. Many of our students come from low-income families in Lynn, Salem and the entire North Shore area; over the years we have drawn families from Somerville and Mattapan up to the New Hampshire border.

We are alone in either the private or public schools in our commitment to cutting-edge after school development. In addition to our continuing students from our day school program, we accept and transport students from a variety of local schools. Many attend our summer program as well, and grown into scholarship or full-paying families as they work their way up the Greenhouse School ladder. A truly year-round environment, we serve these families from very young children to age 14 in a full-day, full calendar year setting. This commitment to “reform with access” is what sets us apart from other programs and schools, and makes our approach quite unique.

A group of students

Greenhouse school students gather around Ms. Julia

We use a strong base of language and mathematical/logical skills building, using individualized planning and manipulative materials as much as possible. However, upon this base we set the larger spectrum of human intelligences, trying to nurture social/emotional, cognitive and physical growth through a wide variety of activities.

Our heated, in-ground pool serves as an excellent teaching forum for physical fitness. Additionally, we pursue art and music woven throughout the curriculum (a separate published paper on our approach to music is available by contacting the school), drama and video production, an intergenerational exchange, ceramics, gardening, papermaking, to name a few. We strive for every available avenue to reach a child, and we come to know our students very well. A series of two-week sessions in our summer program (the division is often academic, since most attend all summer), culminates in five overnight camping trips to a local park.

In the summer of 2000, we ended our theme “around the world in 50 days” with our own Olympic Games. The school was transformed into Olympic Park, complete with stadium, parade of nations, and flame, and the whole four-day event was captured on tape for cablecast on local stations.

The garden is possible because we are the region’s only truly year-round school, giving our students time to plan, plant, tend and harvest their own garden. Each year, our exhibits at the Topsfield Fair take home several prizes. We are a small school and like it that way. The price for our commitment to community and diversity, however, is a smaller budget. But while our limited resources understandably deny us some of the facilities available to larger programs with much higher tuitions, we find our atmosphere more than compensates as a superior learning environment.

We have had a variety of interns and volunteers from many countries and cultures, and have had great success. The school has begun to honor this cultural convergence with a new tradition. Simple stanchions have been affixed to a cupola on the roof of the school; international flags fly on special days in the school’s calendar. The flags represent the countries of origin of students, staff and family over the years. While we knew that the first wave of about 20 flags wasn’t enough, we were amazed to find out how far off we were. A thorough check of the school’s records reveals that almost 50 countries are represented. We will continue to find new ways to add stanchions, fly flags in rotation, and reflect the diversity of cultures we embrace.

Students gather around the Nnabagereka of Buganda

The Nnabagereka of Buganda on her visit to the school

This emphasis culminated in 2005 in an actual royal visit, from the Nnabagereka or Queen of Buganda, an ancient kingdom in what is now Uganda. The Assistant Director’s father, who is an Ambassador to the King of Buganda, arranged the visit, which was attended by local diginitaries including the Mayor of Salem. In just weeks the children learned songs in Luganda, the Queen’s language, and a veritable army of 35 family volunteers spruced up the school’s ‘well-loved’ campus to make it “fit for a queen.” On the big day children, staff, parents and volunteers prepared a genuine Ugandan banquet, and the kids performed a singing, dancing and drumming show to a spellbound audience of Ugandans and the Queen’s entourage.

Children have also entered the International Children’s Art Exhibition, a juried competition and show drawing thousands of youth entries from over 100 countries. In 2006 a young Greenhouse School artist became the only Massachusetts entry to be included in the touring exhibit, which toured the state for the first time ever with a stop in Kingston, MA.

Recently, the school has been trying to expand its reach to its upper-end students. Summer students age out of the subsidized child care program in which the school participates when they turn 13. This, of course, is just the age when it is most important to keep youth engaged and active in meaningful activities, building leadership skills as well as protecting academic skills from summer atrophy. These students are now eligible for our Teen Titan program, which we would like to expand even further pending available funding.

For over 20 years, we have been trying to change the notion of what school can and should be. As we say in our brochures, we are trying to change the world, one child at a time. Won’t you consider joining our dream?

Art at the greenhouse school

With all the emphasis on test scores and measurement, schools are finding it harder to include the arts on a par with other subjects. Some parents are dismayed that creativity seems to draw the short straw, which in turn shortchanges students.

We’re determined to keep the arts are alive and well despite budget woes and other pressures. Student work from The Greenhouse School was recently featured at the Hartman Leigh Gallery at LynnArts.

When gallery coordinator Jocelyn called us and asked to display our work again, we said “why not?” She knew that, as a year-round school, we would always have something interesting to put up, even when the school year has just started. It’s nice to have people recognize that.

The show featured quilts made by students of all ages. The quilts, handmade by kids as young as 5, took months to complete. People looking at these might think these kids don’t have the attention span to do this, but they do. You have to set the bar high to see what they can create.

It is thrilling to see them work for so long and be so proud of the final product. Of course we don’t skimp on math or reading, but it’s such an obvious thing to integrate art into everything. Excellence is excellence, whether it’s writing, math, science, or anything else. You have to have high expectations for the kids to get them to explore their own creativity.

The show ran for one month alongside the works in the adult gallery.

the greenhouse school

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

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