Progressive, cutting-edge ideas in education have always ruled the day at The Lexington School, but this year the independent school that runs through eighth grade has outdone itself.
Around every corner, you’ll find an exciting innovation – each one more intriguing and unconventional than the last.
The spirit of innovation took flight when TLS expanded its school day this year by a mere 20 minutes to allow for greater flexibility with class periods, teacher collaboration and student-directed creativity. Consider what has followed since:
A new ENRICH program
During a 30-minute period when no other classes are scheduled, teachers circulate from classroom to classroom working with students who need extra help. Those doing well use the quiet time for homework or to read a book.
How about ancestry, DIY crafts, mindfulness and board games as subjects? Teachers expand on their interests and offerings rotate on a quarterly basis.
Students who express interest in particular topics (black holes, videography etc.) are set free to explore with the help of core teachers in math, English, science and history.
Responsive Classroom in the Lower School
Students have thrived under this evidence-based approach to education that focuses on the relationship between academic success and social-emotional learning.
Along the same lines as above, this new program addresses the social and emotional well-being of students as they navigate the sometimes rocky waters of middle school.
“The purpose was to design a proactive program that stressed empathy building and social awareness,” said Grace Newsome, who has a degree in social work. In her third year at TLS, she is the school’s first full-time counselor providing mental health services and therapeutic support for students.
Newsome and Enrichment and Resource Specialist, Kelly Telech, launched the program this year, devising topics for each grade to fit the T.H.I.N.K. acronym.
Thoughtful, Humble, Interested, Neighborly, Kind.
Teamwork, Humor, Integrity, Nature, Knowledge.
Trustworthy, Hopeful, Innovative, Notable, Kindhearted.
Here’s how it works. Once every eight school days, all students from a grade meet together with Newsome and Telech for 70 minutes.
Through structured activities, students exercise their emotional muscles, often through group work.
For example, sixth graders addressed kindness by reading a picture book together – “Each Kindness.” Students were placed in small groups to discuss ideas such as what motivates people to judge and tease others.
Many conversations centered on the way students treated others and the personal guilt they felt for being less than kind. The discussions were more sophisticated and nuanced than most adults would expect.
“There were rich, sincere, deeply felt comments from the students. We have a good group of kids,” Newsome related.
Seventh graders addressed integrity by devising skits about cheating on tests with minimalist props – only a pencil and paper. The skits often relied on humor to make their point.
Inspired by the hurricane damage in Houston, eighth graders considered the best way to help families in need.
Do children who need food and shelter really want a stuffed animal for comfort? Do we give in a way that feels good to us or try to give what the receiver needs? How do we reconcile these impulses?
“Discussing these ideas and having students imagine what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes builds empathy,” Newsome said.
The T.H.I.N.K. program has required adjustments by both students and teachers. No one knew what to expect at the first meeting as Newsome and Telech felt their way to dealing with 60 students at once. But progress has been swift and gratifying.
“Having a whole class in one room forced us to be very creative,” Newsome said. “It took a bit of time to get in the swing of things but we’re rolling now.”
She’s particularly pleased with the growth of the sixth graders.
“Sixth grade is a hard year but our students have really stepped up,” she said. “There was uncertainty at first, but now everyone feels a part of the group. There’s an energetic buzz in the classroom.”
The gender gap has also been bridged. Girls say they no longer fear playing with the boys, who are now more apt to include girls. Both sides seem more empowered, assertive and welcoming.
“We realize that some of what we do goes over their heads,” Newsome said.
“But the more we continue to put these ideas in front of them and help students see from and feel another perspective, the more empathy and understanding will grow.”