Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Crefeld School - Philadelphia, PA

Located in an historical mansion in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, The Crefeld School serves students in grades 7-12. The school was a spin-off from The Miquon School in 1970 (known originally as The Miquon Upper School), founded by a teacher who wanted to expand the school to a PK-12 institution. Later, Crefeld took its own name as an entity separate from Miquon. Rarely will one find a secondary school holding so closely as does Crefeld to its progressive philosophy and values. A small school, with approximately 100 students, there is an endearing climate of warmth and intimacy where every member of the faculty knows every student well. I spent the afternoon touring the school and discussing progressive education with Head of School, George Zeleznik.


George Zeleznik
Crefeld Head of School, George Zeleznik does not mince words. When I asked him if Crefeld is a progressive school and he, himself a progressive educator, he answered without equivocation: "Absolutely - to both questions - and so is everyone in the building." To define progressive education, George is similarly succinct, "We are cultivating critically engaged citizens in a learner-friendly environment." George believes that students best understand democracy by being a part of a democratic process, and schools must be models of inclusive decision making. The progressive principles manifest in key ways at Crefeld. Students learn that giving back to the community is important and by their involvement in planning and organizing, they develop agency and function more effectively.

Crefeld has been a school affiliated with Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) whose principles are found posted throughout the school. CES helps schools build effective learning communities, focused on student outcomes. The organization works with schools to promote innovative and effective teaching. George and the staff have been greatly influenced by CES, which he believes is to be a program resonant with the mission of Crefeld.

Though Crefeld is a secondary school, there is a remarkable similarity between George's description of core educational goals and values and those I heard at the progressive elementary schools during my tour. To create a learner-friendly environment, teachers provide hands-on, experiential curricula to deepen understanding of skills and concepts. Teachers focus on students' strengths and keep a close eye on their motivation. It stands to reason that these practices are perfectly in synch with the needs of students at the middle and high school level. As they separate more and more from their parents, the school is providing a safety net where the students are known and valued as individuals by trusted teachers and staff. At the 2011 PEN conference in Chicago, teachers from the school presented the Crefeld Advisory program, in which students are connected with an advisor for four years. Between the parents, the advisor, and the faculty, the staff have a 360 degree view of the student which they hold throughout their time at the school.

If you've been following this blog, I am sure you are seeing the pattern, progressive schools are inclined to deeply understand their students and develop programs that address their interests and needs. As opposed to the prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approaches which start with the teacher as dispenser of knowledge and wisdom, this approach fits well with 21st Century priorities, by trusting students and helping cultivate their character and independence as learners.

The added pressure to prepare students for college manifests through a creative portfolio program. At Crefeld, students complete a graduation portfolio which demonstrates fifteen competencies. The portfolio is comprised of projects and exhibitions (one of which must be focused on leadership) that the students have constructed, guided carefully by a teacher -advisor and a well developed criteria. The staff worked painstakingly to create the criteria and make adjustments annually. Teachers evaluate the portfolio and determine how best to challenge the students based on their developmental readiness and maturity. In sum, the portfolio not only allows the students to demonstrate their growing skill and competence, but is a vehicle for cultivating student voice, expression, and confidence.

Glass-blowing at 2000 degrees
Each day begins with a morning all-school assembly led by a different senior student who leads the meetings for a week. Birthdays and student accomplishments are celebrated, and it reinforces the important experience of community. One of the program highlights of the school, located deep in the basement of the mansion, is a glass-blowing program run by a former student of the school. It is one of the signature programs of Crefeld and a place where students create works of art that require skill and concentration. With the stoves burning hot at over 2000 degrees fahrenheit, no one can afford to drop their attention.

Perhaps the glass-blowing program is an apt metaphor for Crefeld. It takes deft and delicate craftsmanship to create and sustain this sort of school at the secondary level; in a progressive school, the process requires strength, burning passion, and transparency; the result is a work of skill and artistry. This school is a model we see rarely in this era of grade lust and over achievement. I hope the fires of Crefeld burn brightly into the future.


8 comments:

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  2. i enjoyed that , thanks

    former studnet
    GN

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  3. As a parent of an almmna, Crefeld's motto rings true for me:
    Not all great minds think alike.

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  4. I really like Crefeld's emphasis on portfolio-based assessment. This is something we are working on at Sabot at Stony Point in our middle school. High Tech High also uses this approach.

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  6. Unfortunately for Mr Zeleznik, the only folk who consider Crefeld a "progressive" school are it's students and faculty. Just about every other organization classifies it accurately as an alternative school. Presenting the "advisor system" as a major advance is quite bizarre, since it's essentially a home room system where the home room teacher takes a more active role in the students development.

    It should also be noticed that, for all the faculty claims of properly preparing students for college, less than half of their students manage to actually graduate from college. There's a reason they list the colleges their students were accepted to, and not the colleges their students graduated from, when trying to sell the school to potential clients.

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