With just 12 students in every class, students are able to lead and collaborate in a variety of group sizes and with their peers in other states and countries. Despite, and most likely due to the rigor and structure of the planning and curriculum mapping process, student learning takes place in a highly organic, critically creative, and spontaneous manner.
It was serendipity, or perhaps just a sequence of small, lucky events that led us to Midtown International School. My daughter was in the fourth grade at our local elementary school. She was miserable. Academically, it was the same old thing…worksheets and test prep. On paper, my daughter was excelling: pretty much all “A’s” and very high scores on all manner of standardized testing. However, she was bored and it showed; her teachers complained that she appeared to be daydreaming and that she seemed un engaged from her classmates.
In reality, she was being bullied. It had started the previous year, in third grade, but this year it had really escalated. Girls were calling her “freak” “nerd girl” and “weirdo.” I complained. Her teachers suggested that “kids can be mean” and that my daughter needed to be more outgoing. The day that she came home in tears, this child who downplayed her sensitivity to such things, telling me that a couple of kids were throwing balls at her in gym, yelling “BOO _________” I knew that I needed to find a new school for her.
One safe place my daughter had was the Gifted classroom, because of the wonderfully talented and caring teacher she had.” Ms. A” had handed out materials to all of her students about the Saturday School program at Georgia State. She encouraged me to sign my daughter up for a class, and we did. And signing up for that class, a claymation class that my daughter loved, brought us one step closer to MIS.
Saturday School offered free seminars for parents while classes take place. I attended some, for the coffee and bagels. One morning, Ande Noktes was the speaker. She described her vision for the school, which was set to open in August. (this was Spring of 2014) I was fascinated by the short PowerPoint lesson she gave, which followed the Integrated Curriculum Model that is used at MIS. I thought, this is exactly what my daughter would love! Being an active participant in learning her subjects, seeing how those subjects relate to each other, and seeing how learning could be interesting and relevant to her own life. By the time Ande has finished describing the student experience, from accommodations for different learning styles to specific plans for a hands on science experience, immersion in three languages, and commitment to visual arts, music, and environmental issues, I knew in my gut that this would be a wonderful environment for my child.
She got into the car after her first day. Smiling. I said, “it looks like you like your new school, then.” She said, “no.” I looked puzzled, she paused dramatically. “I LOVE it!”
We have never looked back. My child is thriving. She is herself and feels safe being who she is. There are others who share her interests. She feels that she is part of a community that cares for her. She is challenged. Sometimes school is hard. Teachers at MIS problem solve with the children and families to meet students’ needs. She is learning in such a profound manner, alone and collaboratively. She is learning that it is not only ok to think for herself, it is encouraged!
We interviewed. My daughter brought her Portfolio: two small books she had written and illustrated, plus a medical tray in which lay a large lifelike pair of lungs fashioned from two balloons covered by flesh colored duct tape, connected to straws which formed the airways…she breathed into the lungs, showing how the lungs bellowed, then contracted. Fresh breath!
I saw my then shy and withdrawn daughter walk into the construction site/ office that was soon to become MIS’s first home, wide eyed and quietly nervous. She and Ande (and to a lesser degree, me) spoke for over an hour. By the time we walked out the door I had yet to ask her opinion when Ms. Glass-Half-Empty said ” I think this school sounds fun. I think I would like to go here.”