Whole student learning
With great focus on NCLB strategies and other performance-measuring methods, Waterford Public Schools has, of course, concentrated on its students' grades. But in this country's climate of global competition, Waterford is a district that has also long invested in educating the whole student, preparing each of them from ages 3 to 18 to be students of life, accepters of diversity, and better members of the society into which they graduate. ?
Waterford has done this at the hands of its superintendent, Dr. Randy Collins, whose childhood education in a 30-student, one-room schoolhouse in Maine (there were three students in his eighth-grade class); service in Vietnam; and first postmilitary job teaching preschool through Head Start shaped his approach toward whole-student teaching. Collins became a superintendent at 35 in Wiscasset, Maine. Three states and 26 years later he has helped prepare each of Waterford's kids to be what he calls "an active participant in this Republic." Through its team-led system of faculty and staff, 21st-century green schools with breakout rooms that allow special needs students to get services while always feeling part of their class, and Collins's innovative programming in the humanities, Waterford ensures that from birth to graduation its students are truly being all they can be.
Preschool power: The "Friendship School" is a full-day, year-round magnet preschool shared between Waterford and nearby New London, Conn. A $24 million building, Collins calls it a "modern, urban, suburban collaboration" truly designed for preschoolers, right down to windows that make peering outside easy for little ones. Diversity is key, and classrooms are built in triads, with two preschool classes and one kindergarten class to each, providing students a three-year experience before they head on to elementary school. Attached to the school is a community center that encourages Waterford's active seniors to volunteer. The school's goal: to accommodate 500 students.
Language learning: Twelve years ago Waterford began offering Spanish to its kindergarteners, if only for 10 minutes a day. Today students through grade 6 have a chance to learn Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese.
"The language program is important," says Collins, in spite of heat the district's taken on costs.
Service to the people: Since 1992 Waterford has had a community service learning requirement, making Waterford High School the first school in Connecticut to make service necessary for high school graduation. Whether it is teaching religious classes, volunteering on political campaigns, or working for nonprofits, Collins says, "There's an obligation for the good of the country to give back in some form."
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing editor.