Parthenon on the Quinnipiac?
by Allan Appel | Oct 6, 2009 1:46 pm
Posted to: Parental involvement, Schools
Through Latin lessons and Socratic dialogue, parents like Grace Gonzalez got a taste of Ancient Rome and Greece—and their kids’ day in school.
It was part of a special day at the Ross Woodward Magnet School of Classical Studies.
Ancient traditions are alive and well at the Quinnipiac Meadows magnet school near the Appian Way ... er, Route 80.
Three years ago, Ross Woodward received a federal grant to integrate great works of the classical world across the curriculum. Now, in its first full year of implementation, the K-8 school uses lessons from the ancient civilizations of Rome and Greece to educate the school’s 560 students.
At the heart of the school’s approach is a teaching tool called the Paideia Method. Developed at the University of North Carolina, Paideia uses Socratic techniques to engage students in learning through dialogue.
Parents experienced that method firsthand on Tuesday morning, when the school’s staff invited them to a demonstration of strategies that shape learning at Ross Woodward. Gathering in a classroom, parents became students again by participating in a typical lesson at the school.
The day begins at Ross Woodward with a daily Latin root word, announced over the intercom by Principal Cheryl Brown (pictured), the award-winning former principal of Conte-West Hills Magnet School.
The root word on Tuesday was foli, Latin for “leaf.” Brown explained to parents that all day long teachers would be referring to words derived from foli, like the “portfolio” of the kids’ work or the “foliage” outside the windows. In addition to the daily Latin root word, students have a regular Latin class starting in the sixth grade.
For all the students, familiarity with all things Latin and Greek come through exposure to the school’s visual culture. It’s everywhere, from the busts of Homer and Socrates that Principal Brown proudly displays in the school office, to the Greek architectural motif painted along the walls, to art teacher Steve Flynn’s mural of the Parthenon.
Following the announcement of Tuesday’s word of the day, parents sat down to begin the morning’s lesson, which was led by teacher Ashley Stockton. The first Socratic feature parents Grace Gonzales (pictured in top photo) and Claudia Collado noticed was that their kids always sit with desks in circles, to promote dialogue with each other. Also, a text is always the center of discussion, not the teacher, according to Stockton.
For demonstration purposes, Tuesday’s text was an analysis of the logo of the school. The image shows the world from space, held in strong hands, and flanked by green laurel-esque design elements. On either side of the image were equal halves of the school’s motto, “Learning about yesterday to build a better tomorrow.”
Parents learned the Latin root of laurel, laus, meaning to praise, or laud. It’s the word at the heart of “baccalaureate,” for example.
The parents were then encouraged, as their kids might be, to talk amongst themselves about what their favorite part of the logo was and why.
Gonzales said she liked the hands because they were strong and inspired confidence, indicating that all children can learn. Collado said it indicated people were working together. Principal Brown, who sat in on the lesson as a student, said she liked the fact that the hands were of slightly different hues, indicating the diversity of the school population, and the world.
Stockton directed the parents to the logo’s language, asking why the past was important. Increasingly, the parents talked to each other, not to Stockton, which was the point.
This was the Paideia Method of learning in action, Stockton said. It emphasizes seminars, group dialogue, and participation. She said the focus on the text puts the emphasis on a dialectic approach among students.
“The teacher becomes more of a facilitator,” Stockton said.
The method focuses not only on group work, it also works individually with students’ social development. That’s why each parent—playing the role of a student—wrote on the back of their desk name tag a personal goal for the session. If you’re shy, then your goal might be to speak twice, said Stockton. If you wander all over the place when you speak, your goal might be to focus all remarks on the text.
Rose Romatzick (middle), whose son Emmanuel is in the first grade, said she was indeed shy, and yet she spoke twice, and well, during the parents’ seminar. At the end of the seminar, the parents-as-students were asked to ponder - privately, no pressure - how they met their goal.
Some teachers at Ross Woodward use the Socratic method daily, others weekly, as certain subjects like math lend themselves less to it than, say, language arts. A schoolwide seminar is held once a month. Brown said the first text analyzed by a schoolwide Socratic seminar was President Obama’s address to school kids.
More seminars will follow, whether from Aesop’s fables or the work of Leonardo da Vinci or Langston Hughes or Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
Such wide-ranging topics can all be “classic,” a term which Stockton (pictured) said the school interprets broadly, in order to cut across time and embrace the cultural heritage of the school’s many the African-American and Latino students, said Stockton.
For the parents attending their first Socratic seminars, the morning was an eye-opener. Collado said that she now had a clear idea of how her third grader Mike learned. She said she was very pleased also that not only did her son’s opinion count in class, “our [parents’] opinion does too.”
Principal Brown said that with 2009 being the first full year of implementation of the Paideia Method, it was still too soon to make any judgments on its impact on the performance of Ross Woodward’s classically trained kids on the standardized tests.
She added, however, that “one micropoint of light” was a student last year who told her he recognized one of the words on his Connecticut Mastery Test because it had been a Latin root word of the day.
Ad astra per aspera! . . .Veni, vidi, vici! . . .
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I want to thank the New Haven Independent for the in-depth report on such a wonderful person as Mrs. Cheryl Brown (my neice). I’m here in New Orleans,LA and was so excited to read this article to my family and friends.
I pray that this message will be view by my neice—I thank God for His strenght and blessings he has gifted you with to continue touch and change the lives of the many children (and their parents) you come in contact with on a daily basis. AuntiFrankie-New Orleans, LA