Joyful Learning and the 5Cs
Support the Whole Child at Brittan Acres
When Jessica Blumen attended Brittan Acres School in the 1980s, she could not have imagined the creativity and innovation that has been unleashed in today’s classrooms. When she was a child, students sat in neat rows and received information from their teachers. Today, even the youngest students are active participants in their learning. They explore, rather than reciting facts from a book, and instead of sitting in rows, their desks are clustered to encourage collaboration and communication. Students work in teams, grasping a scientific concept by doing a hands-on experiment, or creating a group presentation to share what they have learned about a historical figure or a work of literature.
3rd-grade students exploring the impact of water on different materials
“A lot of things have changed, but the elements that made Brittan Acres special when I attended here are the same today,” said Principal Blumen. “This was always a charming, warm, and supportive community where life-long friendships were formed, and it still is! One of my favorite things about BA, then and now, are the patios outside each classroom, which give students the chance to learn and
explore outside, even in the middle of an ordinary school day. I have great memories of my time as a student here and my wish is for all of my students to look back on their time here and share those same fond memories!”
The academic rigor at Brittan Acres is inseparable from the Habits of Mind embraced by the district: ownership, plus the 5Cs: communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and citizenship. Approaching academics through the lens of the 5Cs reinforces learning that might be quickly forgotten if merely memorized. For example, all Brittan Acres students participate in a program called BUGS: better understanding of garden science. Students at every grade level have the opportunity to take the science lessons they are learning in the classroom and apply them to planting things, harvesting or cooking. The BUGS program uses all of the 5Cs skills, with a special focus on citizenship in the form of environmental stewardship.
K/1 students planting in the garden during a BUGS lesson
Brittan Acres is centered on the idea that children are active learners, and while the early grades are the time when students master foundational skills in reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies, an approach centered on the whole child also includes outdoor learning, as in the BUGS program, and the arts and physical education. Using a project-based approach to learning captures the natural curiosity children have about the world and begins with students asking a driving question, conducting research and sharing their work with an audience through a presentation. Projects often cover all of the 5Cs but often focus deeply on one or two.
Principal Blumen also places a high premium on social-emotional well-being, and models that value for students and staff. Her office is filled with colorful art and inspirational sayings designed to put students and staff alike at ease. At the beginning of the school year, she explained, kindergarteners sometimes need special encouragement to feel comfortable at school. If they visit her office because they are missing home, they get to choose which brightly colored chair to sit in, and they might be offered a toy or puzzle to work on while they talk with her. Students who come to her office to problem solve an incident that occurred are listened to and encouraged to reflect deeply on the situation. Tossing a ball or playing with a puzzle during a talk with the principal sometimes helps peel back the layers and reveal an underlying reason for the misbehavior, which many times leads to developing an effective strategy to support student growth.
“As a staff, we have adopted the core values of authenticity, compassion, joy,
mindfulness, and togetherness and these go hand in hand with the 5Cs,” said Ms. Blumen. “Keeping all of these core values in mind and practicing them daily as we communicate and collaborate allow us to work together to positively impact student learning.”
As important as the 5Cs are within the classroom, there is plenty of room to practice them outside of core academic subjects, too. This year, Brittan Acres began offering a recess program that gives 1st – 3rd grade students the opportunity for guided activities during lunch recess. Every day students can select a pass that gives them the option of visiting the makerspace, going to the library to read or play a board or card game, going to the computer lab, going into the multi-use room to play with imagination playground blocks, or working with the friendship counselor on an art project. This program provides a space for students who may not enjoy the unstructured play on the playground and prefer a structured activity, and it builds the 5Cs skills outside of the classroom as students create and collaborate, communicate and think critically.
“Learning is fun, and I want students to enjoy their experiences,” said Principal Blumen. Not only is her enthusiasm contagious, but her own joy in learning shows that Brittan Acres has a long legacy of instilling this value in its students!