The mission of the Xara Garden School is to:
Align the methods of education to the natural processes of learning;
draw out the whole and highest potential of each student, teacher and stakeholder; and
thereby grow a kind and creative community of global citizens, creating the gift of a just, sustainable, and harmonious world.
The separate strands of the Xara Learning Initiative are all well-established and well-proven. What is original is a vision for weaving them into something both new and universal. The vision is utopian without apologies, and result-oriented without excuses. In the schools of the Xara Learning Village, the skills and commitments to build a better world will be learned, in a better world-within-a-world that has already arrived.
1. Xara Thematic Instruction
Inquiry-based, multi-disciplinary, and themed instruction is the backbone of the Xara Learning Village. The name “Xara” is a literary reference to the best-possible future world we can imagine – Paradise Possible – natural, nourishing, and sustainable. And Xara is imagined as a living world: itself learning and growing, getting better and better still.
Xara thematic instruction challenges students to imagine and create a best-possible future Earth. It thereby opens instruction to the most fanciful, and the most practical, flights of imagination. Creating a better world requires understanding of how our world actually works, how it came to be, and the students’ place in its order. It requires historical, cultural and global perspectives, it requires art and spirit, it requires courage and generosity, and it requires dependence on each other. In the schools of the Xara Learning Village, this imaginary paradise will begin to grow in the children who will create it in the world. Here, it all starts in a garden.
2. The Xara Learning Village Concept
The Xara Learning Village is imagined as a world-within-a-world, a living model of a world we hope to share with everyone. It will grow to a single campus of four charter schools and a pre-school center, eventually serving students age 3-19. The students, staff, and families of the four schools work collaboratively to create the learning community. Multi-age, multi-ability, and family groupings share challenge, support, and success. Many of the projects created by students and staff are undertaken as improvements to the Village campus, and the boundaries between academics, art and exercise are always fluid.
Young learners have very different capacities at different developmental stages. Project-based learning offers a variety of approaches to differently challenge students at different ages and levels of ability. The four schools of the Xara Learning Village are designed to provide a consistent continuum of project-based methods which progressively challenge students as the grow. There is also a progressive movement in the design, specificity and rigor of student projects. Projects grow with students from wonder and discovery toward real-world simulations to solve real-world problems. This progression also reinforces the Xara Learning Village commitment to service, stewardship, and citizenship.
Throughout all the four schools, the methods of multi-disciplinary inquiry are applied – through a progression of investigations, projects, problems and simulations that grow in challenge, specificity, and actual importance as each student grows. This charter proposal is only to found the first school of the Village, the K-2 Xara Garden School.
3. Garden School: Grades K-2
For the young students of the Xara Garden School, the first projects, explorations, discoveries and associations of their formal learning careers will involve extensive contacts with the natural world and physical objects, outdoors, and close to the soil. These young learners will construct their own understanding of languages, numeracy, history and culture, art, science, health, leadership, teamwork, cooperation, caring, patience and stewardship – using all the multiple intelligences – within the physical metaphor of growing their own organic gardens. This thematic instruction is completely open-ended to follow other interests and avenues, and makes the ideal beginning for the overall thematic instruction of the Xara schools: conceiving and creating the best possible world.
Beginning in the youngest years, the information to be learned under the standards can be discovered everywhere in the world. Standards are addressed through open ended experiences, driven by interest and curiosity, as incited and guided by the teacher-leader. The process must be highly individualized because the normal range of development at this age is so wide. This is the concept of the K-2 Xara Garden School now proposed in this petition. In the classrooms and gardens and sunshine and greenhouses and potting sheds of the Village, students will build understanding. They will move, and will experience all the senses, and will manipulate physical objects in the natural world. At this age, the world is – and should be – a garden.
The concept of dividing the elementary school years into a K-2 “Garden” School and a 3-5 “Terrace” School is intended to align instructional methods to young learner’s developmental abilities. Particularly for young children up to approximately seven years of age, a range of as much as three years of developmental differences is considered normal, posing particular challenges for standards-based programs. Matching challenge to an individual student’s readiness is necessarily an ongoing process with very high stakes.
The culture of emotional safety, belonging, commitment and personal engagement is enhanced in the Xara Garden School by “looping” students with their teachers from Kindergarten through Second Grade. All students will have contact with all teachers and all other students in multi-class, multi-age, and multi-ability groupings. Every student serves as a leader and as a follower at different times of the day, and every day offers opportunities to work against personal challenges and celebrate personal successes.
Objective and compassionate global, cultural, and historical perspectives are learned and reinforced in all aspects of a HEART/EARTH curriculum: Humanities, Engineering, Arts, Research & Technology. The Spanish language instruction of the Humanities element and the piano instruction of the Arts element both begin in Kindergarten. Throughout the themed instruction of the Xara Learning Village, all aspects of the curriculum will treat in questions of how to make the world more equitable, peaceful, and beautiful.
Here, students (and everyone else in the community) learn in order to teach others. This approach addresses the State content standards and also introduces a broad range of enrichment experiences to nourish the brain, provide context, and kindle student inquiry. By addressing the whole person and whole knowledge, students make meaning from information and develop lifelong thinking and learning skills that apply in all settings. Addressing knowledge from a global perspective and from an intention of service, students develop the abilities and commitments necessary to meet the challenges of the world today and tomorrow.