At The Branch School, we believe that strong academics combined with a nurturing environment make for happy, motivated students. Children are unlimited, so we set the bar high. We combine research-based curriculum with project-based learning so students have structure, but can take what they are learning and branch off to learn more about a topic of interest. Students dig deep and use higher-level thinking skills to answer driving questions and memorable experiences are created by the many opportunities given each student.
Our focus on project-based learning fosters imagination and allows for student choice which is an important part of the learning process. Although we believe that learning key educational elements at developmentally appropriate times is crucial, we also know that we can plant these educational benchmarks in a topic of interest to the student. For example, a student who is learning to format a paragraph with correct capitalization and punctuation, can just as easily write a paragraph about a topic of his or her choice as they could about a topic of the teacher’s choice. When a student dives into one of their cherished topics, they take ownership of their learning and are more likely to do a better, more in-depth job. Students in turn share the topics they are excited about and become teachers. Students learn from their peers and acquire interests that they might not otherwise have because of the diversity found in the classroom. You won’t see a lot of worksheets at The Branch School because students are creating original works. They are inventing and pushing the bar higher so teachers become learners too.
Teachers are facilitators and as our student writers publish their works, it becomes the job of the teachers to help students find real-life venues to share and publish those works. Students are encouraged to enter writing contests, and write, for example, thank you cards to the many adults who visit the classroom to share their time and knowledge. Students also send letters of appreciation to veterans and uplifting cards to people in need in the community. They learn empathy for others and help our community.
Our science program includes a lot of investigation. Our Engineering, Coding and Robotics programs start in Kindergarten and keep our students engaged. Lab work and being out in the field is also the name of the Science game. Exploring means getting messy and really digging in the dirt. Students mix solutions, create models, and perform experiments. In our Outdoor Classroom, they plant, weed and harvest herbs and vegetables. Bird watching and exploring our Wildscape are also favorite activities.
Technology is a popular class, as well as an integrated piece in all the classes. During a Science class, you might see students using the MERGE cube to learn about the body. They can put on a Curiscope t-shirt and by using the code on the t-shirt, students can see a virtual image of human anatomy. Students also read informational texts and write about their findings.
Visual artwork is seen all over the school. Some student artwork is displayed as fine art and framed. You will also see student-painted art on the walls at the entrance of the Middle School. Students were encouraged to come up with their own designs to welcome everyone into the building. Visual art is seen in the hallways and the art is constantly changing. You will see self-portraits, collages, paintings and so much more.
Music and rhythmic singing and movement are part of daily routines in the Lower School. Students are involved in drama and dramatic play and they even dance during math time to practice counting. So many studies show that children need play time and recess opportunities. All our teachers are cognizant of these needs and they build small chances for movement breaks during lessons.
Setting a calm, productive atmosphere is important. A thoughtful schedule that gives sufficient time for each class and allows students not to be rushed is important. Students are given the time they need to think, reflect and question deeply. The Branch School includes a complete, caring package of well-designed programs and a focus on the individual needs of each child.
This blog was written by Laura Davila, our Lower School Coordinator, who is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a Master's Degree from the University of St. Thomas.