Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate, Calvin Carroll, is making a splash in the world of stock car racing. At just 16 years old, racing has always been his passion. As a student at Ridge and Valley Charter School he apprenticed with an auto mechanic shop during “Independent Study” time. Independent Study at RVCS is a dedicated time when students are involved in the process of identifying personal interests, setting goals, finding resources, planning and following through on projects, documenting their process and self-reflecting and sharing outcomes. This independent study opportunity for students comes from RVCS’ fundamental belief that all children are intrinsically motivated learners and are ultimately capable of directing their own learning.
The governance model at Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) is collaborative, circle-based modified consensus. Students, teachers, trustees, and families use the circle form for meetings, discussions, and decision-making in small and large groups and in committees.
The Circle, an Ancient Form of Meeting
The circle, or council, is an ancient form of meeting that has gathered human beings into respectful conversation for thousands of years and has served as the foundation for many cultures. What transforms a meeting into a circle is the willingness of people to shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening. This practice is expanding widely into corporations, non-profit and NGO boards, education, healthcare, community activism, and religious communities as a highly applicable form of collaborative governance.
The Circle Way
Ridge and Valley Charter School has benefited from resources and guidance from mentors connected to the organization PeerSpirit, who train organizations in The Circle Way. This practice is a “body of work combining ancient lineage and modern social technology into a refined, lightly structured group process.” The two founders, Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, taught, applied and evolved this work in a worldwide 25-year writing and teaching cycle.
RVCS has refined its own circle practice through onsite trainings, study of the book “The Circle Way – A Leader in Every Chair,” by Baldwin and Linnea, and the informative PeerSpirit website (www.peerspirit.com). These tools have supported the evolution and development of school-wide practices of a foundational model of circle governance.
Circle-Based Collaboration Foster Relationships and Responsibility
The trustees and staff credit the responsibility and relationships fostered by circle-based collaboration to long-term success of the school. Both the children and adults seek to model the personal responsibility and mutual respect necessary to work in a circle of peers: to ask for what you need and to offer what you can, in support of the explicit shared intention of the group.
Ask students at Ridge and Valley Charter School what “circle” is and they will have a lot to share. They will say it is how they help to govern their classroom; that it is an opportunity for them to listen to new ideas while having a voice of their own. The Circle Way fosters a sense of confidence and empowerment in these students that they will carry on into adulthood.
Ridge and Valley Charter School graduate and budding filmmaker, Sadie Price-Elliot, had her film “Patience” accepted into the Student Film Showcase at this year’s Black Bear Film Festival in Milford, PA. Currently, a sophomore at Sussex County Technical School studying cinematography, Sadie wrote and directed the film when she was just a freshman. The festival spotlights independent filmmakers and their work with screenings held at a variety of venues throughout the town.
Outdoor Overnight Expeditions: A Cornerstone of the Ridge and Valley Charter School Experience
Overnight and expeditionary experiences that are embedded into the curriculum, from kindergarten through graduation, offer some of the most important and exciting opportunities to Ridge and Valley Charter School (RVCS) students. Not only are these experiences a critical element in the development of self-confidence and a love of the natural world, but they also provide a rich, integrated way to learn and apply the skills and knowledge that the students are studying throughout the year.
Consider this quote from a study by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies on this topic:
…the benefits of outdoor skills education [include] improved interpersonal and intrapersonal skills; environmental awareness and stewardship ethics; physical, mental, and social health; and ability to learn and concentrate.”
This is only one of many formal research studies that document the numerous and compelling positive outcomes that are a result of expeditionary types of experiences like the ones that are integral to the RVCS curriculum.
Benefits of Outdoor Overnight Expeditions
Many students often report that these experiences are the most memorable and life changing of all the experiences they have during their time at RVCS. This is not a surprise or a coincidence. The following is a list of many of the benefits of expedition style experiences:
- Confidence, self-esteem, maturity, self-awareness and independence
- The ability to be part of a team, to lead and be led (setting up camp, making sure everyone gets to the top of the summit, delegating and sharing in tasks, etc.)
- An ability to communicate with others day-to-day and under pressure (ensuring everyone in the team knows what is going on)
- An understanding of the importance of humility, empathy, compassion, gratitude and pride
- Organizing, planning and preparing
- Problem solving, flexibility, adaptability and initiative
- Skills to assess and manage risk
- Financial management, budgeting and the value of money (fundraising/planning for an expedition fosters entrepreneurial skills and gives real and relevant business experience)
- Knowledge to travel safely and responsibly
- Learning from mistakes
- Reflection and debrief reinforce everything that is learned
- Participants can use the expedition to provide evidence of personal key skills on college and/or job applications
- The lessons learned, cultures explored and environments visited during an expedition meet and go beyond the standards found within multiple academic content areas
Taking the Classroom Outdoors
We are fortunate to be located in an incredibly rich area in terms of natural and recreational resources. We have easy access to the Appalachian Trail, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the Paulinskill Trail, as well as numerous YMCA camps and outdoor centers. At RVCS, we continue to hone a developmentally appropriate, K-8 expeditionary scope and sequence of skills and experiences connected to the curriculum lenses for each academic year. Teachers, referred to as “Guides,” fold content and assessment into these experiences, building from one year to the next, so that by the time students graduate from RVCS they will have had a variety of overnight experiences and practiced a wide range of outdoor skills, all while engaged in content rich studies. Often times, due to the high engagement of the students, these experiences feel less like “school” or academic learning and more like fun adventures, thus on the surface and from an outside view their value may be overlooked.
Planning for an Outdoor Overnight Expedition
A great deal of planning occurs behind the scenes prior to each expedition to allow for the students to have a safe, developmentally challenging experience. Guides are trained in the skills necessary to handle a variety of emergency situations and help facilitate a group working through the above mentioned challenges. Additionally, during each trip, there is consistent contact between trip leaders and emergency contacts back at RVCS to continue to evaluate and adjust for safety and/or changing weather conditions. This planning and on-going assessment of the group is what allows for these safe, but transformative experiences.
The Academic, Physical & Emotional Value of Outdoor Overnight Expeditions
Not only do students engage in experiences that address common core content standards for traditional academic areas, but they also practice and are assessed on a number of mission related goals and standards, as outlined in the RVCS charter agreement with the state of NJ. We are committed to not only teach common core content standards, but also demonstrate that we are achieving our own mission specific goals. The expeditions/overnights are a perfect medium for students to engage in these critical learning experiences, from the planning stage all the way through the trip debrief upon return to the school.
While the expeditions have a quality of adventure and fun, they can also be physically and emotionally challenging. This is as critical a part of the experience as the physical skills and academic content. Students of all ages are sometimes anxious about being away from family or, often in the older grades, the physical challenge of backpacking or dealing with uncomfortable weather conditions. These are all normal feelings and in the end add to the incredible sense of accomplishment that comes with facing and overcoming a challenge. While students prepare for the experiences over the course of the year, it’s not easy to simulate all of the physical and emotional challenges that will actually occur on an expedition and this experience with a real-world challenge actually adds to the overall value of the experience. It is not uncommon for students to struggle somewhat, either individually or as group, during parts of the trip. It’s often that feeling of elation at overcoming an obstacle that solidifies the experience for the student. These types of breakthroughs are incredible moments that we hope all students have at some point during their RVCS journey.
Pictured: Emma Corbo, Kathryn Zurovchak, Dad Niko Corbo and Vincent Corbo help clear underbrush during RVCS’ October 1 Community Service Day.
Ridge and Valley Charter School Community Service days, like the recent gathering on October 1, provide an opportunity for students, families, staff and trustees to come together and help make the RVCS campus a better place. On Community Service Day, volunteers take on site management tasks, classroom prep activities and a wide range of helpful jobs to beautify the property and prepare classrooms for students. Sustainability means taking care of the resources, materials and relationships around us. And we believe that when students and families connect to the operational dynamics of their school, the learning is deeper and students can better understand their school as a local community-based human experience.
Ridge and Valley Charter School student volunteers helped to plant 163 trees on the banks of the Paulins Kill in Stillwater, New Jersey to mitigate invasive species that prevent reforestation and ultimately, cause erosion. After learning about watersheds throughout the school year, students were compelled to volunteer to help the Paulins Kill watershed that runs behind their school.
Student Volunteers & the Restoration Effort
Ridge and Valley Charter School partnered with the Stillwater Environmental Commission and the Wallkill River Watershed Management Group who have been working on a reforestation and restoration project since 2012. The planting of trees is part of a larger project to mitigate invasive species and prevent erosion.
While volunteering, students were able to see the stream bank erosion first hand and by helping to plant trees were an active part of the restoration effort. Ridge and Valley Charter School student volunteers hope to come back to measure the survival rate of the trees, fix the tubes that are protecting those trees, and track the progress of the area.
Service Learning Opportunities at Ridge and Valley Charter School
This is just one example of the many voluntary service learning opportunities (integrating meaningful community service with instruction and reflection) that students at Ridge and Valley Charter School undertake each year.
For more information about the students’ volunteer experience check out the write up in the NJ Herald here!
Our annual student-led conferences are one of the many things that make Ridge and Valley Charter School unique.
Student-led conferences are meetings with students, parents, and guides, during which a student shares work and discusses his/her progress. The intention is for the student to lead the meeting from start to finish. Student involvement in a conference makes learning active, provides opportunities for students to evaluate their own performance, and encourages studentsto take responsibility for their learning. Having students take charge of the conference makes them more accountable for what they are learning.
Prior to conferences, the students, with guide support, collect work that reflects what they have learned. Students then evaluate their work and, as they conduct their conference, explain skills they have learned and share goals they have set for themselves. While a guide may serve as the conference facilitator, the student will lead the conference.
Student-led conferences offer the opportunity for students to play an important part in their own educational process. This approach fits beautifully with the holistic, student-centered focus of our mission that recognizes children are capable and responsible. We have chosen to use this format because of the many benefits to the students, including:
- Having greater accountability for their learning;
- Learning to think about and evaluate their own progress;
- Gaining a greater commitment to school work and learning;
- Building self confidence and self esteem;
- Encouraging student/parent communication;
- Building communication and critical thinking skills;
- Placing greater responsibility on the student;
- Allowing students to become more actively involved.
Families benefit from this format as well as it:
- Helps families learn more about their child’s learning and skills;
- Offers an opportunity for families to help their child set positive goals;
- Encourages active family participation in their child’s learning.
Conferences are a wonderful opportunity for families to see, hear and experience their child’s learning and progress.
Friday June 3 – Saturday June 4, 2016
White Lake Preserve – 97 Stillwater Rd, Hardwick, NJ and Ridge & Valley Charter School – 1234 RT 94, Blairstown, NJ
All are welcome to this family friendly event!
Join the challenge to document as many species as possible in the Ridge & Valley Bioregion in our 1st Annual BioBlitz. Meet naturalists, learn about the species at White Lake Preserve and become a citizen scientist by participating in data collection and observation.
The preserve is recognized regionally by bird and insect enthusiasts for its abundance of observable species. And it is home to some of the rarest plant communities in the U.S.
Many BioBlitz activities will be offered at the White Lake Preserve located on Stillwater Road in Hardwick, NJ. The 394 acres of Warren County’s White Lake Preserve are home to some of the rarest plant communities in the U.S. In the center of the preserve is a 69-acre, spring-fed limestone sinkhole lake surrounded by marl fens, wetlands and meadows. In the upland areas are limestone forests, cedar glades, and rocky outcrops teeming with moss, ferns, and fungi.
BioBlitz participants are also welcome to will explore the various wetlands, meadows and streams on Ridge & Valley Charter School’s 18 acre campus located at 1234 Rt 94, Blairstown, NJ. Abbreviated activities will be spaced throughout Friday and Saturday to accommodate those who need a slower pace and the ability to stay close to a home base. Overnight primitive camping will also be available on the RVCS campus.
Primitive overnight camping will be available to the first 30 families for the event. A 10’x10′ area will be allocated to each family. Locations will include:
- Lower Octagon area
- Lower Meadow
- Four Directions
Please see the attached registration form to list your preferences. Camping sites will be given by preference on a first come first serve basis to those who pay the $20 camping fee and fill out a complete camping registration form. No refunds will be given as this will pay for needed facilities.
Primitive Camping Agreements for RVCS Campus:
- Rain or Shine
- BYO dinner and snacks
- BYO camping equipment and gear
- No alcohol, drugs, smoking
- No pets, grilling or open fires
- No access to electrical outlets
- Primitive camping with Portable Toilet Facilities only
- Carry in, carry out
- Shared fresh water available
- Parental supervision of children at all times
- Sites packed up by 11AM. Leave no trace
Join us on Saturday morning for a Fundraising Bake Sale. Coffee, Tea and baked goods will be available for purchase.
Saturday, April 16
10:00am – 2:00pm
Join other families in showing gratitude for a school that honors, nurtures, and guides your children.
A lot of work is completed for the students, guides and school. There are always a variety of projects such as:
- printing out resources
- organizing materials
- removing invasive species
- pruning and trimming
- sorting through classroom libraries
- preparing the garden for Spring
Please consider participating in this very important event.
Your contributions, large and small, greatly benefit the children of RVCS and the entire school community. Even an hour or two of your time is greatly appreciated!
Integrative learning is a cornerstone of the Ridge and Valley education. Students learn by doing and subjects are interwoven. Here students continued their study of Colonial America by researching, designing and then creating a food storage system on the school property.