The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science Guiding Values
Community Based Learning.
We believe young people learn best when they are actively engaged in learning that relates to their physical and social world. We strive to help learners develop connections with the community in which they live, extend their appreciation for the natural world, build on their prior knowledge and experiences, and cultivate a desire to serve as active and committed citizens through place-based learning.
A Small, Public Charter School Setting.
Our small size allows us to extend our learning beyond the walls of the classroom and gives us the flexibility to explore a variety of learning and teaching methods and techniques not possible in more traditional settings. Smaller classes yield opportunities for young people to share their thinking and learning in meaningful ways as well as develop a strong sense of community with our students and their families.
Relevant and Engaging Learning Experiences.
We believe offering learning experiences that extend beyond the classroom provides a unique contribution to young people’s lives as they develop their sense of place and become aware of resources, needs, and challenges in their community. By developing interactive partnerships with the larger community we are able to access nearby resources and the expertise of those in the field which makes learning authentic and meaningful. As young people learn through experiences that are close to them both physically and emotionally they begin to value their communities and see that they have a role as a valued member of a community now and in the future.
The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science connects children to their community and the natural world and nurtures each child’s development in a safe and caring environment of exploration, cooperation and creativity. We offer a program of learning that teaches the importance of the environment and a sense of commitment to community. The overarching philosophy of The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science is to create a community of learners that are deeply involved in developing a sense of place.
“Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum. Emphasizing hands-on, real-world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their community, enhances students’ appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens. Community vitality and environmental quality are improved through the active engagement of local citizens, community organizations, and environmental resources in the life of the school.” (Sobel, 2004)
The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science, spanning Kindergarten through eighth grade, immerses students in natural sciences, the arts and civics. We strive to deliver a comprehensive, standards-based educational program with a child-centered view of learning. The curriculum helps students develop a sense of place by utilizing local community resources, places, and people, to allow children to regularly participate in real-world learning experiences. The Cottonwood School of Civics and Science curriculum is designed to encourage exploration of the natural world and involvement in the local community through application of the arts and sciences. Integrated themes incorporate the study of literature, mathematics, science, arts and civics in an ongoing study of the natural and social world.
Our curriculum is tightly tied to our place. Students explore communities, both social and natural, closest to home in lowest grades (K and 1/2). In 3rd grade they begin to venture in the broader community including studies of the City of Portland. Fourth/fifth students study the state and nation. Sixth grade students begin the trek through our upper school exploring the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Seventh and eighth grade students study conflicts a global citizenship. The school-wide curriculum is designed for consistency and coherency and is based upon the Common Core and Oregon’s Content Standards and Benchmarks.
We recognize that each child learns in a different manner. Our child-centered approach actively engages students through inquiry-based learning. Project-based problem solving and collaborative learning is used to emphasize the development of leadership skills. Instructional methods (i.e., literature circles, listening to and presenting oral histories, graphing a garden) reflect our understanding that children learn through exploration, experience, guided inquiry and social interactions. The integrated curriculum uses problem-based learning, collaborative/cooperative learning, project-based learning, service learning and work-based learning, and provides a program that is both challenging and content-rich. Teachers act as leaders, models, facilitators and caregivers.
Our teachers create an environment of nurturing and inquiry and guide students in the growth of their physical, emotional, social, cognitive/intellectual abilities, self-actualization and social/civic responsibility. The basic instructional methods of routines, exploratory and creative play, projects, field work, guided discovery, inquiry, skill and technique building, and modeling will be used to varying degree at the different grade levels. It is the teacher’s responsibility, with the support and help of the other staff, parents and the broader community, to connect the students’ experiences to authentic, real-world, community-based opportunities for learning.