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. Students begin learning another language in first grade (Chinese), and they continue doing so through fourth grade. In grades five through eight students learn Spanish. 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 charter school in the Portland Public District, Portland Village School students complete the annual state tests in the Spring, and the results are public record. PVS students in grades 3-8 take the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills Tests (OAKS), annually, and some of the outcomes of the Spring 2013 results included:
In English and Language Arts, the percentage of PVS students in grades 5-8 who ‘met’ or ‘exceeded’ state benchmarks was higher than the district average, as well as the state average. This pattern has been consistent for the past three years, and reinforces our Waldorf inspired approaches to teaching pre-reading and literacy skills that are rich in stories.
In Science, which is state tested in grades 5 and 8, PVS students the past two years have performed as well as, or more often, better than their counterparts in PPS and statewide.
In Math, a higher percentage of PVS students in grades 5 and 8 ‘met’ or ‘exceeded’ state benchmarks than their counterparts in PPS or statewide.
Analyzing the performance of PVS students through an equity lens reveals that most of our sub groups performed as well as, or nearly as well as, as our students overall. This was true for our Multi-Ethnic students, Students on Free or Reduced Lunch, Hispanic/Latino students, and our gender based student groups.
On the scale of 1-5 (with 1 lowest and 5 highest)used by the Oregon Department of Education to rate schools overall, taking into account multiple variables, PVS earned a rating of ‘4’ for the second year in a row.