Sunday, February 10, 2013

Children's Community School - Van Nuys, CA

Children's Community School is a special place, holding true to the lineage of Progressive Education. I have had the pleasure of knowing the school's Director, Neal Wrightson for many years and have learned much from him about the progressive movement and its core tenets. Neal has been a warrior for Progressive Education and his school embodies all that one would expect to find in a school deeply committed to creating a joyful place of learning for children. It is always a pleasure to spend time with Neal and visiting his school so early in my tour sounded a resonant note.

Neal Wrightson
There is certainly no ambivalence for Neal Wrightson, Director of Children’s Community School (CCS) in Van Nuys, CA. when it comes to claiming CCS as a progressive school. Neal is a long-standing progressive educator and one of the key players on the national scene through the nineties, as a group tried to resurrect the Progressive Education Association.  Neal’s school, a K-6 independent school with 120 students, is located in the heart of a working-class neighborhood, largely populated with residents living in multiple-unit dwellings. The school was founded in the early 1970's, and serves a diverse socio-economic population, with over 40% of the students receiving financial assistance. The location of the school in Van Nuys was chosen intentionally to allow access to a wide and diverse range of families.

Neal assumes a political stance in defining progressive education. At its heart is educating children to be citizens in a democratic society. For Neal, everything that goes on at CCS flows from the principle that a democracy demands that its citizens collaborate, compromise, take responsibility for themselves and one another. At CCS, the teachers aspire to help children imagine how their world could be better, and then determine what active role they will play in that endeavor. There are no text books, no grades, and no standardized tests. The staff models collaborative decision-making and employ a descriptive review process, which they have studied and learned at the Prospect Education Center in Vermont. This past summer, the entire staff attended the center and performed a full descriptive review process.
For Neal, to keep a clarity of purpose, there must be constant open dialogue, a vetting of practice, and a spirit of collegiality.

There are 120 students at CCS, a relatively small number that Neal particularly favors. The staff know each child intimately; understand the needs and desires of the families, and can wrap their arms around the community in a particularly effective way. Over the years, they have resisted any temptation to grow or expand from the current number precisely because meeting the needs of students requires a cohesive community of like-minded educators and parents who support the philosophy of the school. In this age of independent school expanding their numbers and developing their facilities, it is admirable to see the commitment of Neal and the CCS community to want to sustain the size of their school in order to deeply understand what will allow their students to flourish and thrive in a supportive and happy school setting.

I visited classrooms and  spoke with teachers who so impressed me with their passion for progressive education and for a truly child-centered education. They are the heart of the school where the fun and serious business of learning takes place every day. Lucky kids; lucky families. Lucky me to see a true model of progressive education in action this early in my journey. It establishes a high bar!

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