Our first and foremost goal for all of our students is for them to be happy, and to enjoy their time in our learning environment.
The purpose of education is action. We push our students to learn because they need to know it in order to accomplish their greater goal.
The Ampersand School approach to discipline is a minimalist one that is founded on common sense. We begin by instituting the fewest rules necessary to maintain a positive learning environment. Misbehavior is often merely the symptom of a deeper issue, so when we see a student acting out we try to determine the reason and proactively find a solution. Sometimes it’s just a matter of modifying the curriculum to accommodate students with special needs.
We don’t give detention or hold Saturday school, and suspension is very rare. We believe in fitting the punishment to the “crime,” but it has to accomplish the goal of encouraging the student to curtail improper behavior. We have found that treating students with respect solves, and even prevents, most disciplinary problems. Plus, giving them the responsibility of making the right choices instills a sense of pride that will facilitate their development as contributing members of society.
Service Learning is a method of teaching that combines formal instruction with a related service in the community. Our service learning program provides students and teachers the opportunity to impact their community in many ways. All Ampersand School Students, Faculty and Staff will participate in a service learning project related to that quarter’s theme during the first week of each quarter.
Parents will be responsible for dropping students off and picking them up from the designated location. Students should bring a lunch that does not have to be refrigerated on these days. All Ampersand School students are required to have a certain number of service learning or volunteer hours within the community each school year. Students must complete the hours and document them on the Ampersand School Service Learning Forms provided. All service learning hours are due by Friday, May 20, 2013.
At Ampersand School, we feel that authenticity is crucial for establishing the link between theory and application, which extends to our curriculum. When teaching a new concept or introducing a new subject, it is imperative to connect it to something real – such as a person or an event that currently exists – and then use that concrete example to lead into the abstract concept.
If a student can relate the material to something they’ve experienced, they are substantially more likely to remember the concepts. And, when they can recall the concepts as opposed to blindly memorizing dates, people, and events, they actually learn something.
We recognize that education involves awakening and empowering students to become active participants in the learning process. We will not force them to do a particular task or assignment, but we will spark their desire to do so. By using the Socratic method of teaching, Ampersand School encourages critical thinking skills and self-reliance. This includes requiring that every student is actively engaged in class discussions and assignments.
Students often learn by doing and engaging themselves in project-based problems that have no readily available answers. Through these avenues we challenge youth to think critically about the world around them, to see their world not as predetermined but as continuously developing and subject to their influence.
At Ampersand School, we seek to defend and cultivate the individuality students are born with but too often neglect. We want students to be proud of who they are and of their unique abilities, apart from any labels. This means we accept and make allowances for students’ individual learning styles.
We also give students the opportunity to spend a larger than average proportion of their time working in the subject about which they are most passionate. Not every student needs an equal grasp of mathematics, or history, or chemistry, for the simple reason that not every adult equally draws on these subjects in their respective careers.
When educating students for the real world we feel it makes sense to deal with subjects in an integrated fashion since objects of study in the real world are already intermingled. This means we always begin with a real-world subject such as technology, social justice or environment. Or even a breaking news event such as the March 2011 earthquake that struck Japan.
From there, we work backward to the knowledge needed to understand the subject and the skills needed to address the problem. We want students to see how academic subjects are interrelated—how geography influences literature, how history intersects with engineering, how statistics work with sociology. Integration also improves problem solving abilities as students begin to think more critically about the world around them.
We believe in an educational system that can be universal without conforming to a one-size-fits-all concept. Our curriculum is developed in such a way that students at different grades and levels of ability can follow it simultaneously.
It suits all students universally while being flexible enough to be adjusted for an individual’s needs. This approach challenges the conventional acceptance of standardization and lays the foundation for an ideological shift.
While we believe in a Universal Design type of curriculum, many core elements of our curriculum are familiar. Every student must take four years of Math, English, Social Studies and Science. Students who enter Ampersand School in the freshman year of high school instead of transferring from elsewhere later on will also take four years of a foreign language—the same one throughout, so that they graduate with some degree of fluency—and four years of art (history, criticism and practice).
All our students will graduate with at least one credit earned in each of the following disciplines: Engineering, Computer Science, Debate and Logic. One credit of Life and Study Skills is also mandatory, as is one credit of College and Career Planning. Finally, 120 hours of physical education are required, which can be completed at home or through organized sports. We consider classes that may be optional at other schools—art, computer science, engineering—to be crucial in giving our students a well-rounded modern education.
We feel that credits should not be obligatory rewards based on arbitrary assessments requiring minimal effort. They should be badges of accomplishment given to those who have displayed an appetite for knowledge. That’s why at Ampersand School, our official policy is to not pass students unless we know they will be successful in the classes that follow. Nor will we pass students if they don’t participate in class discussions or complete their assignments.
Credits are also not dependent on seat-hours. If a student can demonstrate a mastery of all the skills and concepts of Algebra I inside a month, we’ll give the student the credit and let them move on to Algebra II. Just as there’s no point in passing a child who does not understand the material, there’s no point in holding back a child who has exhibited proficiency.
As with other pedagogical tools, Ampersand School treats homework very differently than traditional schools. At Ampersand School, the load is variable and highly individualized. We determine this by looking not only at what a student needs to accomplish academically, but also at her home life, emotional well-being, academic history, and other factors—the whole context in which homework is done.
Our ultimate goal is not to assign homework, but to assign projects that make students want to work at home. We want their education to be so interesting that learning becomes something they pursue, whether in school or not. We do this by finding out what our students’ interests are and structuring their assignments around them. Eventually they go from making fun of homework to making homework fun!
An assessment is a tool to determine what a student knows. It serves to map out the territory of a student’s knowledge and its limits for both the teacher and the student himself. At Ampersand School, we don’t wait until the end of a unit or even the end of a chapter to assess a student’s progress. Because our student-teacher ratio is so low, we’re continually able to do evaluations. We engage in dialogue with our kids both in and out of class, and in doing so we learn how they are progressing as students and, more importantly, as individuals.
Of course, we do not condemn all summative assessments. Major class projects always culminate in a showcase of student work. At the end of each quarter, Ampersand School hosts an exhibition of student projects to which parents and friends of the school are invited. Displaying their work for public appreciation boosts students’ confidence and gives them a tangible sense of contribution.
Whereas most schools have a grading system that runs A through F, official Ampersand School policy recognizes only three possible grades: A, B, and Incomplete. This doesn’t mean that the A and B ranges have expanded; rather, a score of 80–89 is our minimum expectation.
We know that every kid is capable of an A or a B, so we don’t permit inadequate performance. If a student is on track to earn an Incomplete, we give him extra attention and work closely with him to fill the gaps in his understanding so that his work will merit a passing grade.
Although Ampersand School has a physical campus with classrooms, offices, and other facilities, we don’t restrict learning to the limits of our real estate. The entire world is our educational space. As such, field work is not a field trip in the conventional sense; it is not optional, nor is it a break from school.
As the boundaries and limitations of our world fade, we begin to see the connections that fundamentally link all disciplines. In that respect, field work is the bridge that links our individual identity to the global community, making it an integral part of our curriculum.
Ampersand School is proud to offer job shadows to our students. This provides an opportunity for a student to tag along for a day with a professional in his field of interest and be exposed to the rigors of the job. The benefits of this program continue to grow as we build our network of partnerships and match students with professionals for job shadows. Sometimes these single-day opportunities lead to internships, volunteer credits, mentor programs, or even employment.
Our Job Shadow Program is designed for the Preparatory Students. Preparatory parents and students are responsible for transportation to and from their Job Shadow Program Placements. Students are not to attend school before or after their Job Shadow Assignment. Students are expected to complete all of the accompanying assignments provided on their syllabus for each quarter in order to fulfill the requirements for the Job Shadow Program.
We strongly believe that Ampersand School prepares students more effectively for college than traditional primary and secondary schools. Our methods encourage self-reliance and self-motivation – qualities that are crucial in the unstructured college environment.
Also important in higher education is the ability to make connections between disparate sets of data, and to compare and contrast distinct societies, political systems, time periods, engineering methods or works of literature. Finally, the problem-solving method in which we train our students—progressing from analysis to synthesis—equips them to tackle anything college might throw at them.
At Ampersand School, you will not find a sweater vest, pleated skirt or necktie in sight because uniformity isn’t our goal. Our dress code consists of everything we can to foster individuality, not bury it beneath a group identity. Our students do not wear uniforms because they are not uniform; each is unique and treated accordingly.
Our goal is to individualize every aspect of the educational experience, so for each student we make an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). For freshmen it’s a unique four-year plan that details such topics as the course schedule, behavioral accommodations, extracurricular activities, rules for computer use, and our expectations of student performance. For older students joining Ampersand School, the IEP is adjusted to fit the remainder of their high school career. The IEP also includes an attendance agreement requiring a signed commitment from students and their parents.
Throughout the year we will refer back to the IEP as we watch a student’s progress. The initial education plan we lay down isn’t set in stone. One of the chief benefits of not having the bureaucracy of a large school is flexibility; we’re free to revise the IEPs as necessary to best support our students as they develop, reveal more of who they are, and set goals for themselves.