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York Country Day School teachers seek innovation in classroom learning
Posted 09/09/2016 12:01PM

From sparking early interest in language to immersing students in science, it's about igniting in each child a lifelong passion for learning.

Walk into a classroom at York Country Day School and no matter the subject you'll find some of the same things: a small group of fascinated students; a lesson focused on unlocking individual creativity; and a teacher dedicated to drawing out the unique design forming in each of those young minds.

Across departments and disciplines, instructors at the independent, college preparatory school in Spring Garden Township share a common purpose—to give their students the tools to be great. And the innovation inside campus classrooms today transcends traditional teaching.

"Our teachers are the lead learners in each classroom, and we never want them just pulling out last year's file," said Matthew Trump, Dean of Faculty. "We want this to continue to be a hub for learning and for teaching in Central Pennsylvania."

Beyond the textbook

In Micah Pflaum's lower school Spanish class, young students are exposed to the language early through puppets, games, singing and more. By fifth grade, they're using iPads to create music videos that coincide with Spanish songs.

"Most public schools begin offering foreign language to their students in Middle School," she said. "We offer Spanish to our students from the age of 2, so we're able to teach it using the natural approach without initially focusing on grammar and textbooks."

That early exposure to language means that by Middle School, many YCDS students are eager to immerse themselves in another culture, said Kristi Spies, who teaches French in grades six through 12.

Young French students aren't bombarded with phonetics and verb conjugation but rather are encouraged to talk—about themselves and their family, their pets and their personality.

"You know no one is chattier than a Middle School student, and this gives them a chance to talk, to find their voice," she said. "You're teaching it to the way they learn."

For those who continue on to Upper School, French studies might mean a trip to Quebec for the Winter Carnival or even an exchange trip across the Atlantic.

"Our job as teachers is just to spark an interest, then see where it takes them," Spies said.

Marrying modern tools and creative thinking

For Asa Church, who teaches history and English in Middle and Upper School, that spark might come from showing a student "visual notetaking," a way of recording class discussions through drawing pictures. Or maybe it's using Google Cardboard – a virtual reality tool – to tour ancient sites from the comfort of the classroom.

Regardless of today's tools, though, the common thread at YCDS is pulling from students the excellence that faculty knows lies within them.

"Behind the lovely, new building and exciting new classes and technology are a bunch of teachers and administrators who really care about students and see themselves as mentors for greatness," Church said.

In the science lab, teacher Liz Charleston uses project-based learning and design thinking in Middle and Upper Schools to allow her students the flexibility to pursue their passions.

From sixth graders who research and build a miniature, self-powered vehicle to students in ninth grade who collect data on the flora at Nixon Park to assess the health and biodiversity of the forest ecosystem, a YCDS science class boils down to opening up the wonders of the world to young minds.

"I love that I can know each of my students well and find ways to inspire them based on their unique strengths and interests," Charleston said.

The difference of a YCDS education

It's about igniting in each child a lifelong passion for learning, said Trump, the Dean of Faculty.

YCDS educators are focused chiefly on three things: building student success; building institutional success; and externally visible impact, he said.

The first means teachers work individually with every child, to ensure the best chance of success. The second dictates that when see you see an opportunity on campus to better the school, you seize it. And the third tenet, it obliges those who've witnessed the difference that a YCDS education can make to spread the word about something exciting in York County education— to tell others.

As assignments go, Charleston said, that's a fun one.

"More opportunities than ever abound for students to incorporate technology, engineering, arts, and math into their science experiences, emphasizing the integration of all these disciplines in real life," she said. "This is an exciting time for both students and teachers."

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