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Stillwater School begins first day of first school year

ARLINGTON — It’s a small school building with a small student-body, but its curriculum has big ambitions.

The Stillwater School held its first day of school Sept. 10, for its first official school year, and its seven kindergarten students are already learning hands-on lessons about the world around them.

Linda Henning is the school’s only teacher. She explained that the school’s maximum capacity will be 10 students and that the school will grow with the students as they progress from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We’re an independent school that’s focused on expeditionary and holistic learning,” Henning said, as she supervised kindergarten students picking up rocks and pieces of wood in the small elevated tub of the school’s “water table” station. “We’ll be conducting outdoor projects, like observing the river for a year-long study, and doing other projects in the community. We integrate art into literacy, math and science in a hands-on way.”

In addition to the water table, the school features an art station, where kindergarten students will create their own art using a glue-gun and an assortment of recycled and reusable materials, as well as a writing station, where they’ll answer one question each day from reading. There’s even a separate quiet reading room, with named seat-pads on the floor for each student.

“They’ve made mobiles,” Henning said, pointing to the wire-frame structures that hung from the reading room’s ceiling. “Each one tells about their interests and families. We have hands-on themed displays, like the ones for birds and trees. And of course, there are books everywhere.”

Henning emphasized the importance of outdoor play for the students, asserting that it would be tailored to help them become aware of the environment, gain an appreciation for the Earth and become responsible stewards for it.

Jane Cassady co-founded the school with Tasha Branch and Caroline Sumpter, and they’re three of the seven families whose children attend the school.

“Two years ago, we got the idea to create a project-based school with a strong community outreach,” Cassady said. “We wanted lessons that would be conducted in the real world, not behind a desk with a textbook. Tasha, Caroline and I started working out our education philosophy a year and a half ago, and Linda had experience in project-based education. We look forward to seeing the seed of this school grow.”

Tami Losey knew the Stillwater School’s co-founders through sending their children to the Stanwood Cooperative Preschool together. She’s sending her son to the Stillwater School this year because she’s impressed with its program.

“I like the small class numbers and the emphasis on movement and projects,” Losey said. “They’re not sitting at tables or being taught to tests. The curriculum has so much energy and is so community-based. I’m really excited about it.”

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