Our philosophy at Lee Academy is straightforward: We strive to empower children to strengthen their gifts, pursue their passions and reach their potential. The framework by which we accomplish this objective is based on the best research in gifted education and thirty years experience in perfecting how to apply this research to the school environment.
Framework for Education
We patterned our initial approach to education after Dr. Barbara Clark’s Integrative Education Model. In every subject area, it gives equal importance to four human functions – thinking/cognitive, feeling/emotional, physical/sensing and the intuitive. These functions cannot reach their optimum levels separately but only when each is integrated into the whole. Using this model as a starting point, we have applied its key components in the development of our program.
Individualized Education in Action
True “individualized education” as outlined in the Integrative Education Model is difficult to achieve. At Lee Academy, our educational philosophy and operational program have been developed to approach the concept of individualized education. Components of the Integrative Education Model have been applied within our program, then fine-tuned through actual application and the introduction of new gifted research. The result has been the development of a successful gifted program.
Initial components, several of which came from Dr. Clark’s model that have “weathered” the test of time and prospered include the following:
- No decisions made on chronological age
- Development of an individualized curriculum for each student
- Small class size
- Continuation of student-teacher relationships over a period of many years
- An emphasis on self esteem and values such as cooperation, consideration, and respect
- A strong counseling and group dynamics program
- Students taking responsibility for their own education
The educational philosophy and program at Lee Academy have incorporated other components that complement the integrative model and have been found to work well in the education of gifted students. These include:
- A non-institutional campus setting
- A “global” approach to education, including cultural/foreign exchange programs
- An extremely varied curriculum, taking advantage of local professionals
- An emphasis on student-directed individual and small-group projects
- An approach to the growth of the individual that goes beyond academic issues
- Critical and creative thinking incorporated into all classes
- Interactive discussion-based classes
- Early introduction of foreign languages
- A strong fine arts program including music and art instruction at an early age
- Incorporating advances in technology into every class
- The development of student interests and/or skills through the support of “clubs”
- Providing college-level academic classes and laboratory experiences through a very successful dual-enrollment program with local universities
Creating a Responsive Learning Environment
This stems from the works of great thinkers like Plato, Socrates, Dewey, Pestalozzi and Froebel. The goal is to create a unique learning experience for each individual. Research has found that of those persons studied who had achieved exceptional accomplishment of international note, virtually all had received individualized instruction both at an early stage and in their specific fields of accomplishment. Our responsive learning environment may have a different format for each group of learners; however, there are eight basic characteristics:
- There is an open, respectful and cooperative relationship among the teachers, students and parents; a relationship that can include planning, implementation and evaluation of the learning experience.
- The environment is much like a laboratory or workshop, rich in materials with simultaneous access to many learning activities. The emphasis is on experimentation and involvement.
- The curriculum is flexible and integrative. The needs and interests of the student provide a base from which the curriculum is developed.
- Instruction occurs in small groups or between individuals. Groups centered around needs or interests can be formed by teachers or students.
- Sharing of ideas and active discussion is emphasized in all classes.
- The student is an active participant in the learning process. Movement, decision-making, self-directed learning, invention and inquiry are encouraged both inside and outside the classroom. Students may work alone, with a partner or in groups.
- Assessment, contracting and evaluation are all used as tools to aid in the growth of the student. Conferences keep students and parents informed of progress and provide guidance for future planning.
- The atmosphere is one of trust, acceptance and respect.
Relaxation and Tension Reduction
Neuroscience tells us that human learning is not as effective or efficient under conditions of stress, anxiety and tension. Stress is an unavoidable consequence of living. We attempt to work through stress and anxiety by physical exercise, discussions, music and techniques such as meditation and role-playing. Our small classes and emphasis on cooperative learning instead of competition give the teachers and students more opportunities for relaxed learning.
From our experience, a physical environment can also be conducive to the reduction of tension. We find the natural setting of our campus (open space, trees, grass, lake, and animals) promotes a mode of relaxation and reduction of stress. Our interior setting is more like a study room at home than an institutional classroom. Personal comfort is also important. Students are encouraged to wear comfortable, appropriate clothing.
One notable observation made by brain researchers is that physical movement is important to learning. A child’s movement is quite natural when entering school. We recognize that all our students should have ample opportunity for movement throughout the day. The students change classes and rooms often and are involved in activities during the classes. They are able to go outside to play during free time as well as after lunch and during physical education classes. Classes are often held outside in our variety of settings, which include an art deck, an outdoor theater, a pergola, a science deck, an organic garden and a gazebo on the lake.
Empowering language is an important part of our classroom communication between teachers, between students and teachers and between students. Based on our experience, when students are given an opportunity to work in an environment in which empowering language is valued, they become more responsible and motivated. These characteristics have been found to enhance academic achievement and positive self-concept. Our teachers use physical and verbal affirmation, humor and reflective questions. Constructive, specific and immediate feedback is given.
Choice and Perceived Control
One of our major goals is to help students become responsible learners. We attempt to provide opportunities in which they can experience choice and shared control. Further, they must believe they have the competency or can acquire the competency to make good choices and to achieve goals. Choice and perceived controls have been found to significantly affect motivation, academic achievement and self-esteem. Our teachers incorporate choice into their classroom organization.
We want our students to focus on accomplishing their best effort, not on a competition for grades. Our emphasis is on the mastery approach, self-evaluation, teacher assessments and progress conferences with written and verbal evaluation.
Students at Lee exercise a degree of choice and control over their own learning and social activities. Good decision making must begin with opportunities for choices and alternative thinking. A technique we find helpful in establishing the tone for perceived control is the development of agreements which take the place of class rules. These agreements clarify expectations of the teachers and students in and out of the classroom. All class members including the teacher, operate from the same standards. While agreements vary from year to year, the following is an example agreement:
- I will listen, share and respond appropriately to others.
- I will find the alternatives and choose what gets me to my goals.
- I will treat others as special people.
- I will take care of myself so I can be the best that I can be.
- I will handle each problem with the person that can do something about it.
- I will figure out what I want and ask for it at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner.
A more specific and simplified version of these agreements is used with the youngest students.
Complex and Challenging Cognitive Activity
We provide challenging cognitive work and activity through the use of:
- Free-acceleration (appropriate pacing and level based on student needs)
- Enrichment (broadening the curriculum through projects, trips, speakers, etc.)
- Curriculum compacting (reduced amount of introductory activities, drills and review)
- Mentorship (exposure to advanced training and experiences in a content area)
- Dual enrollment (taking an additional class or classes at local universities
- Passion projects, Senior Capstone Theses and Academic Fairs
- Intuition and Integration
The integration of all of our human functions – thinking, feeling and sensing – releases intuition and creativity. Creative and intuitive processes are expressions of the highest level of human intelligence. Intuition and creativity is encouraged in classes and during playtime at Lee through imagery, fantasy and visualization.
The results of this approach are quite evident. Our students are happy, interactive and demonstrate a positive attitude toward learning. Students who have been with us for a period of time take responsibility for their own education. Test results of our students based on standardized measures (SAT’s, ACT’s National Achievement Tests) are extremely favorable when compared to students throughout the United States. Our graduates are accepted at the best universities, often with significant scholarships.