The Portland Village School is a holistic, arts-integrated, K-8 school which synthesizes Waldorf methods with other best practices. This educational approach does not otherwise exist within the Portland Public School System. At its core, the Portland Village School strives to become a learning community committed to the learning process and development of each child’s greatest potential.
The Portland Village School bases its program on three specific principles of education: (1) Subject Integration, (2) Teaching to the Whole Child, and (3) Children as Broad Capability Learners.
Our educational approach is multidisciplinary, centered around a 3-4 week subject unit called the Main Lesson Block. At Portland Village School, academic studies are integrated across disciplines such as art, science, math, and history. For example, students in a seventh grade main lesson history block on the Renaissance Period may be studying the lives and times of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Rafael, while at the same time creating their own "text-books," complete with their own writings (in calligraphy) and drawings. Earlier in the day they might practice 3-part recorder music and recite poetry from the Renaissance, and later the same day, study the laws of perspective in Math class. The next day they would apply those laws in their own drawings or paintings.
Teaching to the Whole Child
Waldorf methods emphasize understanding the 3-fold nature of the human being as a seminal idea in teaching. These ideas are now being supported by the most contemporary research in the learning sciences. An education which addresses the head (cognitive), heart (affective), and hands (behavioral) is essential. The cognitive approach, so often emphasized in schools today, simply falls short in meeting the broader needs of diverse groups of students. Not all children can be successful learners with a cognitive approach, and—more importantly—such an approach ignores other aspects of the child. By acknowledging and directly teaching to these other aspects, we support the growth and development of the whole child. By nurturing the affective and behavioral development of the child we are actually harnessing, complementing, and enhancing the child's cognitive growth.
This method supports what most teachers and observers of human nature already know: people are gifted and challenged in diverse ways. Acknowledging this multi-faceted aspect of children, and using lesson plans which meet these diverse learning styles, is currently drawing strong interest from educators around the country. There is also increasing acceptance of the idea that children learn through their bodies as well as through their brains. Math skills, for instance, can be taught through rhythmical and coordinated group movement exercises, and counting practiced through cooking and knitting, while children's natural energy can be funneled into fun, challenging physical activities during Morning Movement, in preparation for a focused academic activity period. This integration of movement, music and drama is central to The Portland Village School’s holistic approach and places it at the forefront of current educational research and methodology.
Children as Broad Capability Learners
Children at a very young age can learn to speak a foreign language with a perfect accent by being exposed to a native speaker on a regular basis. The National Association of Language Teachers recognizes that children who learn second languages before the age of eleven do so with a specific and more productive part of their brain. All language learning will carry on in this area of the brain if second language study continues, which makes it that much easier for students to learn. We have a Spanish and Mandarin Chinese language program that begins in first grade. Similarly, children’s capacities as artists, musicians, authors, and poets are much greater than generally believed. Regular practice of those activities produces abilities which are quite remarkable and impressive. In addition to drawing on children’s natural creativity, Portland Village School emphasizes practical learning. Through the grades, children are taught genuine life skills such as cooking, gardening, bread making, carpentry, knitting, sewing, and wood-working. This emphasis on doing real life work gives children a strong confidence in dealing with the world around them.
Curriculum and Pedagogy
Our founding group is convinced there is a valuable potential synergy between Waldorf methods and the modern mainstream public education tradition. The public school approach to standards-based education will complement and strengthen the Waldorf pedagogical tradition. The cultural, socio-economic, and racial diversity of the public school system will broaden and enrich the predominantly private-school-based history of Waldorf education in the United States.
District and State Accountability
As a Portland Public Charter School, Portland Village School students are required to complete annual state tests and report the results to the district. Students in grades 3-8 take the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS) Tests, and in 2011-2012 some highlights included:
In English and Language Arts, in grades 4-8 the percentage of Portland Village School students who Met or Exceeded state standards was higher than the district percentage, as well as the state percentage.
88% of Portland Village School students in grades 4, 6, & 7 Met or Exceeded state benchmark standards. In 8th Grade, 86% of PVS students Met or Exceeded state standards, and in 3rd Grade, 60% of our students Met or Exceeded state standards.
In Math, a majority of Portland Village School students Met or Exceeded state benchmark standards in grades 4,6,7, & 8, including 79% in 7th Grade.
In August 2012, Portland Public Schools received new school performance ratings under Oregon’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver, which the Federal Government approved in July. The new ratings are based on overall student achievement, student learning growth, and academic growth among historically underserved students. Under Oregon’s interim statewide system for evaluating school success, schools are rated from Level 1 to Level 5, with Level 5 schools demonstrating the highest levels of overall achievement and student growth, and Level 1 schools the lowest results and gains. Of the 81 schools in the PPS District, 10 received a rating of 5, and 36 schools earned a Level 4 Rating, including Portland Village School.