Pacific Horizons School
The Philosophical Foundation
There is now a school in American Samoa which is different - different in many ways. We call it non -traditional. While most schools are curriculum based, ours is Student Based. We are not driven by the need for a group of students to achieve a given level at a given year. We are drawn by the desire to see each student go as far as he or she wishes to go. From there the educational achievement follows. We began this school from a vision of "how can it be better?"; now we've found a way. Or rather we are finding a way, for it is an evolutionary process. Now we want more people to experience the thrill and satisfaction of changing a young person's life. There's room for everyone to help.
The mission of Pacific Horizons School is to help young people chart their direction and build the skills necessary for a successful journey through life.
Learn to Learn
Develop a love and respect for oneself as unique by:
Develop a lifelong love of learning by:
Develop a respect for others and for the World by:
"If I were running a school I would..." This is a phrase that founding teachers, Mara Ashley and Don Hill, said many times to themselves while teaching in traditional schools. Dreams sometimes become reality in unexpected ways. And this is exactly what occurred for these two teachers. A series of events led them to say, "Why not now! Why not start a school and do it the way we think it ought to be done." And so they did.
In October, 1994, Pacific Horizons opened with six students in the living room of the Ashley home. The school had two teachers, a handful of books, and lots of hopes. The school has grown since then and now boasts 14 students and many more tools for teaching, including a multimedia computer system.
The name "Pacific Horizons" was selected because it embodies the image of students heading in various directions toward their chosen horizons. Pacific Horizons is the Home of the Navigators. This mascot was chosen because it expresses what students are--navigators in a journey to adulthood and on into the rest of their lives. Just as the early Polynesian navigators had to carefully plan their journeys and learn important skills to make it to their destinations safely, so our students have to make important choices and develop the necessary skills for their successful journeys into the future.
Mara Ashley and Don Hill have learned much about teaching and the needs of students since they opened their school. They have experimented with new ideas, discarding some and developing others, and they have learned from both their successes and their mistakes. During this whole process they have become more convinced than ever that this "non-traditional" approach is effective and appropriate for most students.
At Pacific Horizons School the students are the navigators, the world is their ocean and their futures are the horizons. It is for them that the school is here. It is the job of the teachers to provide the maps, instruct them in the use of navigational tools, and pass down the knowledge learned through many generations. The teachers point the way but it is the students who must go.
Learning is uncomfortable in a mind which doubts itself. For true learning to take place, students must feel happy with themselves. "According to Glasser (1986), children's motivation to work in elementary school is dependent on the extent to which their basic psychological needs are met." If we are to achieve the significant goals we set for ourselves, we must emphasize the students' own love of themselves.
There has been much made of self esteem in the past few years. Some institutions have even gone so far as to run self esteem courses. Presumably, this means you have self esteem because you have the certificate on the wall that says so. Unfortunately, much of the self esteem emphasis has been directed more at egoism.
This is a common problem for parents. How much praise should be given to a child for good behavior and effective performance? Unfortunately, the currently popular recommendation is to pile it on, and use these occasions as opportunities to build the child's "self-esteem", and to give him/her a "good self-image". Sad! Because there are so many other better things a parent or teacher can do to help the child grow, learn, and appreciate the joys of problem-solving, and the satisfaction that results from civilized behavior.
The whole emphasis on "feeling good about yourself" has led to a sad decrease in the ability of children to learn and accomplish. The other day even Donahue, ordinarily quite sympathetic to those who in any way claim to be "deprived", reported an international study of the math scores of children in different countries. Children in the United States scored the lowest on the math tests, but HIGHEST in self-esteem! So much for those whose wishful fantasy says that if children only have a good self-image all kinds of other goodies in the way of learning and achievement will automatically follow.
Self esteem is developed by giving an individual opportunities to feel pride and self respect, not by simply making him feel good.
Students will not become more successful until they achieve greater confidence and higher self-esteem. On the other hand, boosting their self-confidence in artificial ways (such as by just telling them they are capable) will produce an "Icarus Effect," whereby they attempt too much too soon, and as a result fail worse than ever.
Self esteem of the students at Pacific Horizons School deserves special emphasis.
Some of the areas where an observer of the Pacific Horizons method will see this goal being deliberately sought are:
Positive Reinforcement; and
Joining physical, mental, and emotional development
In Pacific Horizons, portfolio assessment is the primary method of determining a student's progress. This is a relatively new concept in elementary schools, but in fact has been at use in higher education and business for centuries.
As in any professional community, 'buzzwords' are common. New ones come into vogue, old ones come to represent 'old fashioned' ideas. "portfolio Assessment" is in fact, a very old idea with a new name.
Traditionally, students are tested to measure their progress. Often
these are based on the ability to recall information in the same way in
which it was originally delivered. You may have experienced this yourself,
when an instructor asked you to all but quote chapter and page from the
text. Rarely does a test give a student a chance to interpret the information
or to explain why the answer is given as it is. It is either right, partially
right, or wrong.
For some people, testing can be traumatic. They are 'test shy', and
fear overtakes their ability to think clearly. There are also people with
excellent recall skills who excel at test taking, repeating the correct
answer even if it is not clearly understood. Thus, a test which is a snapshot
is out of focus in these cases. The test has measured the ability of the
student to cope with the testing environment.
A very old an traditional method of comparing ability is the portfolio,
or its active equivalent, the audition. Artists, craftsmen, tradesmen,
and professionals maintain portfolios of their work in order that their
clients and their peers may see the work they have done in the past. Since
the past is an excellent predictor of the future, contracts are signed
based upon the work shown in portfolios.
This should not then be a vastly different situation in a student's life. Their portfolio contains samples of the best work they have done. Some of it is compulsory, such as worksheets common to the class, some of it is creative. But it at all times represents the very best work of that particular student. In this way, an observer can compare the work of one student to another, but more importantly, can watch the development of a student over time.
The student has a great deal of latitude in deciding what is in his or her portfolio, with the exception of compulsory pieces. As work progresses, early drafts may be replaced by final copies, etc. The teacher pays attention to the process, ensuring that the portfolio does in fact represent not a snapshot of the student, but a richly woven tapestry, representing the full spectrum of talents, achievements, and triumphs. It is, in short, a measurement of the whole person.
It is for this reason that Pacific Horizons favors the time honored measurement system of portfolio assessment. There will be testing, but the primarily purpose of that will be to develop the life skill of test taking. In addition, students will be tested on broad based norms such as the Iowa test in order to find and improve their competitive position with a large population of similar students.
As the name implies, the portfolio is a container for loose papers or pages of work. It is normally a file folder or a scrapbook. But it can also include photos of large works, copies of bound work, etc. It may even include video or audio tapes. Depending upon the level at which a student is working, it may include one or more notebooks and/or workbooks. By the end of the school year it will be of substantial volume and will require editing before being carried forward to the next year. A portfolio is a broad sample of a student's work over a long period of time.
Despite the fact that schools have been organized into groups based upon chronological ages of children, it is a well established act that not all people learn all subject material at the same rate. This may be due to a person's mental, physical or emotional development, a 'gift' or 'talent', or a 'disability'. In any event there will be in any large class students who are 'ahead' or 'behind' the pace.
In Pacific Horizons, we intend to keep classes much smaller. This will take the emphasis off the class pace and put it where it belongs, on the individual student. In addition, the heterogeneous make up of groups will permit students to work with others at their level if appropriate. It would not be surprising to see a four year spread in ages between the members of a project group. Because this is a normal practice, there is little or no reason for embarrassment if a student needs to work on basics with younger students, or for silliness if someone needs to move more quickly in a given area.
In addition, after school projects and tutoring are the norm. Frequently, free tutorials will be offered in Math and Science, and extra time to work on projects will be offered. Should it be required, private or group tutoring can be arranged for students needing more help or instruction in an extra curricular learning area (i.e. French, Samoan, drawing, carving, sewing, cooking, etc.)
Put simply, this means that there will be a clear connection between cause and effect for students, i.e., if you do this, that will be the result. This is achieved through extensive use of models and demonstrations to give students a clear picture of what is expected. It results in a 'no surprises' environment, where the student can see that things are 'fair'. Fairness is very important to students. Often the difference is in the perception of fairness. Initially "fair" really means "what I like" and 'unfair' means something I don't like'. Maturity is developed when a student's perception of fairness can be balanced with the perception of the whole group.
Teachers bring more than knowledge to the relationship; they are motivators, experts, judges. Teachers and learners share responsibility for learning, and some question whether "teaching" has occurred if no "learning" occurred.
Generally speaking, teachers are more comfortable teaching academic subjects and avoiding those areas where emotions and values might 'get in the way'. Unfortunately, when these things are in the way, the student's education suffers. Class sizes are kept small enough that a teacher can get involved. It will be considered normal for teachers to informally confer with parents at school, in the parking lot, or on the telephone regularly. Parents are encouraged to keep teachers informed of changes going on at home or elsewhere in their student's lives. When possible we will involve parents in these issues, including group discussions.
With older students, we do not hesitate to discuss mental and emotional development. Teenagers find it helpful to discover that their feelings are not unique but are part of growing up. During these discussions a topic always covered is Abraham Maslow, who developed the now well known Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow's theory teaches that the real achievement in a person's life comes when he or she is self motivated, or working toward self actualization. This is seen to be at the top of a five step hierarchy. In order to work at the highest level, one must satisfy the other four levels of need. These are (in order bottom to top) Physiological Needs, Safety Needs, The Need for Love and Friendship, Self Esteem Needs, Self Actualization. From this theory comes the rationale that a student cannot learn if they are ill, hungry, uncomfortable, threatened, etc.. This is the reason that violence and or name calling are not permitted and students must deal with disagreement in a manner which promotes conciliation rather than confrontation. The hierarchy of needs can be illustrated with this diagram:
This is a very abbreviated view of a complex subject, but should serve the purpose of illustrating the basis of our philosophy
More than one right answer
Critical and higher thinking skills
Learn to learn is a relatively new theory. This concept speaks about the need for a student to understand the concept of what is being taught, not to simply know the material given. Therefore a great deal of effort goes into the how of something, not just the what. By learning to learn, the student develops the skills required to answer a question without having previously memorized the material with which to construct an answer. The student has learned how to find information, how to analyze it and how to use that information to synthesize new information.
In Learn to Learn, the PROCESS is emphasized over the CONTENT,
the PRODUCT is emphasized over the PERSON. This
means that a student will spend more time learning such things as the relationship
between historical events that the dates and details of events. Another
example is that a student will produce and recognize a good sentence, but
may not know how to diagram it. Dr. Silas Wesley describes the emphasis,
and its rationale, very well:
The students of today are in a very different environment from that of their parents. Today, college students are required to produce professional looking papers which can be produced only with a word processor. In five year's time, they will be required to deliver projects in electronic format. Students must be comfortable using computers, Fax machines, on-line data banks and the like, not as exotic adjuncts to the timetable, but as tools in daily use.
Another aspect to living in an age where information is expanding at an awesome rate is that the right answer may change. There will be situations where what was once thought to be a fact is no longer as correct as it was. Also, whenever one is dealing with human endeavors, one must recognize that there will be more than one acceptable solution to a problem, even if the resources given are the same.
During discussion of educational reform, one often hears that these skills are scarce in today's generation. Critical thinking and higher level thinking are not required in learning by rote. They are however required if one learns to learn.
Creativity is not the purview of the artist only. The imagination required to 'see through' a problem is required in all areas of endeavor, including engineering and human relationships. In today's world, achievement is limited only by imagination.
The Learning Environment
The facets of respect
Respect is the third goal in the Pacific Horizons Mission Statement. While it may seem self-explanatory, it can be misinterpreted. Webster's shows the noun respect to have seven different meanings, with subtle changes in emphasis between them. While respect may have several interpretations, only one is used at Pacific Horizons School. Respect is not the subservience resulting from fear of physical or anticipated punishment. Rather respect is consideration of others. In this way, respect can be freely given, with no loss of pride or dignity. In Pacific Horizons, respect costs the individual no more than a smile.
Why does this receive so much attention? Why is Respect rated so highly, when there must be all sorts of other priorities? Simply put, Respect has many facets and covers a great deal of philosophy in one word.
A particular important psychological structure is what we call "cognitive identity." This refers to the image that a person has of themselves as a thinker and a learner. Sheila Tobias (1993) and others have drawn attention to the influence of self-esteem and self-concept on learning. Successful learners usually have a positive sense of their own ability to reason and learn. On the other hand, unsuccessful learners usually suffer from a negative cognitive identity: They see themselves as lacking in ability in some (or all) academic domains. This negative identity is often reinforced by other significant individuals in the learner's life (such as family members or members of the peer group) who may maintain their own sense of self-worth by constantly deriding the ability of some one else (in this case, the ability of our client). The negative effects of constant ridicule and deprecation can be very great. Respect has aspects of the learning environment, discipline, public relations, and success orientation.
In Pacific Horizons School, there is a lot done to manipulate the environment in which learning takes place. There is no point in conducting teaching exercises in an environment which is not conducive to learning. If instruction is to be meaningful and successful it must be delivered under optimum conditions. This requires that the students' energies are focused upon their own learning, not upon what other distracting things might be going on around them. Students learn best when they are comfortable, and the environment is intended to be comfortable. There should be minimum stress created by the teacher or by other students. Examples of stress caused by teachers include:
Students create stress by:
An environment of respect is a learning environment.
This is another word which is frequently misused and misinterpreted. Discipline is something which is given, not demanded or enforced. the root of the word discipline is the same as that for disciple. It implies willing submission in order to learn. It has nothing to do with punishment. Thus the respect for authority a student requires comes from discipline, or the willingness to learn.
When members of the community outside Pacific Horizons School see our students or our staff, they are judgmental. this is not a harsh criticism of others. All of us are judgmental, and it is natural for someone to ask themselves "Why are they different from us?". The Respect policy will help others answer their own question. A member of the Pacific Horizons Community will project a confident and caring image. A large part of that image is based upon Respect.
When they succeed, students feel good about themselves. Conversely, when they feel good about themselves, they feel successful. Self Esteem and Respect play a large part in orienting students to feel and be successful.
A Heterogeneous Group
Name Calling and Labeling
The very first place to start in the Respect program is with the individual. Self Respect is the key to success and to happiness. Students must feel good about themselves. It is simplistic indeed to think that we can create self respect simply by talking about it, saying "You must Respect yourself". Not a few students will come back almost immediately with such retorts as "Why? I don't like myself" or "How come? Nobody respects me." and their view of the situation will be perfectly true.
For some students, developing self respect can be a goal unto itself and can take a long time to achieve. For others it might be easier. For all, the program is similar.
A Heterogeneous Group
The population at Pacific Horizons has been called a family. This is not just a lucky accident. The teachers share assignments and regularly work with different groups in different subject areas. Grouping for projects will almost always cross lines of gender age and grade. Students are recruited from as diverse a background as possible including those who might bear labels in other schools. Those labels include GT, LD, ADD, disabled, honor students, under achievers, over achievers, etc., etc.,.. The best way to learn that people are individuals is to work with them as individuals. Sometimes this requires parents to find new ways of looking at people.
Name Calling and Labeling
In the first week, students are reminded of what name-calling and labeling are. They are efforts to put one or more students into a broad category and "tar them with the same brush". Examples are calling one another 'retard', 'dummy', 'idiot', 'nerd', 'teacher's pet', and worse. Generally speaking. this action stems from a student's need to make someone else feel as bad or worse than he or she does. They feel better by making someone else feel worse. In the same first week, students are taught that everyone in this school is an individual, each with strength and weaknesses and desirable and undesirable traits and attributes. They learn that this behavior is inappropriate and in contravention of the Respect Policy. Offenders will be required to at the very least apologize to the offended party. Concurrently, they learn that 'doing it back' is also inappropriate. In short name calling and labeling is not something a Pacific Horizons person does.
The difference between 'playing a trick' and hurting someone is learned early. Simply put a trick makes everyone including the victim, feel good. Hurting someone makes someone feel badly. Those people who try to make someone feel bad often feel bad about themselves, and need help. Offenders get the help they need.
Equality is practiced at Pacific Horizons. Each student on a team is expected to carry his or her share of the load, even in group discussions. The closing routine, or logging out at the end of the day, requires every student to recall what meaningful thing happened that day and to speak about it to the other team members. The other team members are required to show every other member courtesy as they speak.
Despite what may be observed in today's world, violence is not a solution to any problem. At the same time a student must feel safe from violence from a teacher, they must feel safe from harm by another student. Both corporal punishment and fighting are contrary to school policy and may result in suspensions, expulsion or dismissal.
Guest Speakers and Field Trips
Respect for the community has to do with how one gets along in the world outside one's home. While there is a great deal of noise about community concerns in American Samoa, it is sometimes not as evident as it needs to be. Pacific Horizons will play its part in instilling community respect by:
The first part of respect for one's community is taking care of your small part of it. Each and every student will have a cleanup job every day. The last fifteen minutes of the day will be devoted to clean up and log out. During cleanup every student will perform a cleaning task directed at maintaining the school and grounds as a great place to be.
As resources and time permits, the school will participate in community events which will bring favorable recognition to us. The various educational competitions are an example. Participation in other festivals, etc. may be another.
Also as resources and time permits, we intend that the students will see the interrelationships of various parts of the community, i.e. government, business, etc.. Visits to and from the school helps teach this.
Many of the students are from mainland USA, and some feel alienated in what seems to be a strange country. This feeling can be addressed by deliberately teaching some aspects of Fa'a Samoa. We hope to enlist the help of our Samoan students and parents in this endeavor. Conversely we hope to be able to show the American culture in a more favorable light than it normally is. There must be more to life in America than 'bad' movies and gansta rap.
Respect for the world sounds like a big job. In our study of Current
Events, History and Geography in Social Studies, and in studying Ecological
matters in Science, we will find that yes, everyone can have an
effect on the world.
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