Frequently Asked Questions

We are continually updating this page so check back often.

What are the options for attending The Birch School?

Students can enroll in The Birch School on a Full-time or Part-Time basis. The full school day for students is from 8:30 – 3:10. Classes begin at 9:00 and students arrive between 8:30 and 8:50 am.  The half day program ends at 12:15, and in person students are welcome to stay for lunch until 1:00 as space allows.

We also offer a remote core -program option, with students attending from home and participating in classes 4/5 mornings per week.

You can also add in-person attendance at school as many mornings or full days as you like, from none to 5.  Check out this page for more details about enrollment options. In-person space is on a first-come, first-served basis, and some components of the program will have enrollment limitations.  Inquire to find out what might be currently available for your student. 

We are currently serving students who range in age from grade 2 to 12. 

Students can enroll at The Birch School at anytime during the school year, following a successful visit, meeting with Director, and student trial.

How does the program work?

Students work closely with teachers and mentors to meet their educational goals. Quarterly educational goals are outlined in cooperation with parents, students, and Birch School teachers. Students focus on individual assignments, hands-on project-based learning, team-building and outdoor adventures. Mornings are spent primarily working with teacher-led classes, pre-identified individual work, or in small groups working with a teacher or mentor. Afternoons are generally for hands-on classes and collaborative project work. Each student follows their own individualized schedule.

Families enroll in the base program, which is 5 mornings attending virtually, in-person, or a combination of both. From there options can be added, such as adding more in-person full time days, up to full time 5 days.

What is a Micro-School? Why should I choose it for my child? Answer here

Are you a Montessori or Reggio Emilio or Sudbury or Democratic or Free School? What model or educational philosophy do you follow?

We take guidance and inspiration from all of those models, but we are strictly none of them. This prepares us to be flexible and responsive to students and families. While we do take a similar approach to a Sudbury or Democratic School, we provide structure and learning tools for students, and ask students to map out a plan to reach their learning goals, in cooperation with teachers and parents. When students come to school we agree that we have shared learning goals. Defining and outlining those goals, as well as creating a flexible plan to meet those goals is part of the process. We help students to become independent learners and engage with learning materials successfully, similar to Montessori approach. We empower and honor students to take responsibility for the learning community, similar to a Free School.

We are also aware of trends and research into the effects and uses of technology for learning, and helping students develop 21st century skills that will contribute to their future success. We encourages students to utilize “KanBan” task planning boards and we hold “stand up meetings” (Agile method) with upper school students to share what we did or accomplished yesterday, what we plan to do today, and what might be holding us back.

Our morning program is primarily teacher directed and afternoons are focused on student-led projects and activities.

Birch students feel a strong sense of belonging as part of a vibrant learning community.

There are some differences between a Sudbury School and The Birch School. For example we strive for consensus rather than use a judicial model. We encourage goal-planning and portfolio development. But we take great inspiration from the Sudbury Model and you will find aspects of it infused in all areas of our program.

You say your school has a strong community.  How do you make sure everyone in included?  

We meet together as a whole school on a regular basis.  (Community meeting will be on Wednesday mornings in the 20-21 school year). 

We use a “talking stick circle” tradition to include all community members in discussions and decisions about school. This model has followed us to a virtual model nicely, and we are conscious to ensure that everyone can contribute to the community conversation.

There are several student committees that are always open to new members.  Currently there is a “Community Culture Committee”, “Animal Care Committee”, “Student Gazette Newspaper Committee” and a “Showcase Committee”.  These are student-organized and student-run, with assistance and guidance as needed.  

Would my student be considered a homeschooler or as a student of a private school?

Full time students are considered enrolled as students in a private school. Students who attend in person part-time can be considered enrolled when they keep up with the agreed upon academic work and are registered and participating in some level of additional support from Birch Teachers.

Part-time students are considered homeschoolers, and parents are responsible for overseeing their academic progress, recordkeeping, and reporting as per homeschool regulations.

Assistance with homeschool reporting paperwork is available as part of membership, or on an hourly basis. We welcome students of all alternative learning models. More information here.

How do you define “Self-directed learning?”

When students are freely and willingly engaged in their educational goals, we consider that to be self-directed learning. By matching student skills, desires and interests with particular learning tools, students can work towards their goals with enthusiasm and pleasure. Each student’s path is different, and their learning plan and goals are decided by the parent/teacher/student team at the beginning of each quarter. The parent/teacher/student team agrees that the work plan mapped with teachers and parents iis reasonable and attainable. Students agree to devote the time to the learning plan, and work daily to maintain progress in all areas.

We offer a mixed balance of adult initiated and student initiated projects and learning experiences.  As students spend more time at Birch they “learn how to learn” and move from more teacher-directed learning to more student-directed. 

How does the school calendar work?

We have divided the school year into two parts, consisting of 5 major learning periods, with 2 mini sessions. Each of the two half-year semesters begins with a week focused on planning the course of study for students. Students then participate in scheduled classes, workshops and independent studies in the necessary academic areas.  Each half of the year ends with time for students to complete a self-identified project, and prepare for Student-Led Conferences and the Showcase.  Several times a year we host a student  “Showcase”; a time of reflection on, and recording of, work done for that period.  Parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, are all invited to attend the evening showcase.  Each semester ends with preliminary planning for the upcoming session, in terms of areas of study and common interest and learning level among learning peers.   For full-time students we also host student-led conferences and parent/teacher meetings anytime by request. 

How is individual student progress monitored?

Students, in partnership teachers and parents, outline learning goals at the beginning of the quarter.  These goals are spelled out, and progress is mapped for each week of the quarter.

Teachers meet with students daily at the start of the day to review the learning goals, assignments, and projects that students will spend time on. During the study periods, teachers and mentors guide and assist students as they work to meet their individual learning goals. At the end of the day, students meet again in home base groups to review the day’s activities and plan for the next day.

Each student has a record of their classes and projects using our online community information system.  Students, parents, and all teachers have access to the chosen recording and tracking tool. 

How do students share their academic achievements and projects with the school community?

Three times a year the school hosts a Student Showcase. The school community gathers to see student work and presentations. Projects and accomplishments are displayed and shared. Students solicit feedback on their work, and often gather ideas for further study from others in the group. Refreshments are shared, and students sing for parents and family members as a celebration of the hard work of the previous period.

Student work is on display at the Showcase.

Some students host their own blogs, where they record and show off their work, as well as journal about their learning. Some blogs are private and others are public.  We frequently publish a Gazette of student writing, edited by students and published on paper and virtually.  

How much time do students spend on each subject?

Our program is integrated as much as possible, so learning is constantly happening across disciplines. Teachers and coaches review each student’s work plan, to ensure engagement with each of the necessary areas, including math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and problem-solving.  They are also set up to allow each student to follow their own inspiration and unique trains of thought, even while requiring them to communicate and document their work, online and actual.  We strive for an integrated approach, however, when we identify gaps in subject area work, teachers will build lessons for students with additional lessons, assignments, and independent study units.

What about the arts, and music?

Art and music inform almost all of our activities at the Birch School. Because we approach topics in an integrated way, we include art and music in each subject. 

We offer Art lessons several times a week, as well as Open Studio periods for art exploration.  There is a grand piano in the building, and lessons can be arranged for interested students, as well as self-study at any time. Numerous supplies are available for students to explore many art medium, including painting, sculpture, fiber arts, sewing, acting, and many other options. Learning computer generated art is included for those who are interested.

A professional Piano teacher is available for individual weekly piano lessons on the grand piano in the large sanctuary in our school building. We also offer private Guitar Lessons on a weekly basis for interested students. We have a school ensemble, and invite all interested students to participate together to create music collaboratively.  We host a chapter of the National Music Honor Society, a student-run group of high school and middle school musicians focusing on community service and performance. 

How do you handle testing?

As far as assessments, we focus on authentic assessment such as written narrative, record of completed work, self-evaluations, rubrics, and multi-media portfolios. At the end of each quarter we hold a student showcase, when family and friends are invited to observe student work. Students present their work and demonstrate projects to solicit feedback from others.  Students also prepare for student-led conferences.

Our program integrates a number of adaptive online tools that provide diagnostics on an ongoing, real-time basis. This allows us to use this information, combined with what we are seeing in lessons with students, to adapt all aspects of the learning experience to meet each student’s individual needs.   

When it comes to traditional testing and assessment, we will test yearly when the family and or teachers deem it necessary or request it. In the early spring, we administer a universally recognized, standardized test only to those students whose individual plans indicate it.

For older students, we offer a test-taking strategies class, which provides realistic strategies and skills to master standardized testing such as the SAT, PSAT or AP tests. For those students who have chosen to take any of these tests, we will offer direct preparation.

How are students grouped?

Due to the reality of life during a pandemic, we are careful to follow current safety guidelines to ensure the health of all of our community members. Because of this, we are forming “pods” of students, small groups of about 9 students who will work with a teacher or coach throughout the day. We will continue to teach classes at all levels and students will participate in person or via video conference, whichever is appropriate at the time. When we maintain pods we are able to learn together in small group without the requirements of wearing a face covering at all times. There will be times throughout the day when students will be required to wear masks, but not when working within their assigned pod.

We envision pods being grouped somewhat like magnet schools: by interest and focus. These small groups will be multi-aged and options will be available depending on learning level, learning style, and student interests.

What kind of student does best in this environment?

We find that students who can accept and embrace responsibility for their own work can excel in this environment. Students who express their ideas in thoughtful ways, and who can learn to work together with others will be most successful. Independent thinkers and students who are exploring their passions are also successful at Birch. Students who are not afraid to fail can experiment in many directions. Students who are willing to partner with their teachers and academic coaches will get the most out of this program. Students who are open to learning group process skills and organizational management techniques can benefit greatly in a learning community like this one.

We are also finding that students who experience anxiety about school or social interactions at school often thrive in the smaller and nurturing environment of The Birch School.  Students who move through their work quickly and who are hungry to work at their own pace excel in this environment.  At the same time, a student can receive individual assistance in academic areas where they might need more support.  The individualized nature of the program, along with the multi-age learning community means that students can find support customized to their strengths and needs.

Are your teachers certified?

Yes and no! Our teachers have a variety of backgrounds working with young people in diverse environments, including schools. Members of our teaching team have also designed and operated summer camps and after school programs, outdoor education programs, physical education programs, preschool childcare programs, computer programming classes, sewing classes. Our teachers have experience in private, charter and public schools, traditional and Montessori classrooms, in elementary, middle, high schools, and colleges, teaching math, history, technology, english essay writing and environmental science. We feel that we have the essential mix of traditional and non-traditional, in school and out-of-school experience to meet the needs of learners in this new 21st century learning environment.

Does my student have to have his or her own computer?

Beginning in the 21-22 school year all students enrolled at The Birch School are required to have their own laptop. Virtual learners must have a computer with exclusive daily access during class times.  Many parents ask what device might help their student, and we usually recommend a simple laptop or netbook over a tablet. That said, many students have only a tablet available to them and are able to complete most of the work they attempt during the day. While in the school  building The Birch School has several apple computers, chrome books, and iPads available for student use.

How does learning at home work? What do I have to do as a parent?

The level of parental involvement required for success depends on student age and experience with the learning tools.  Students should have a dedicated workspace, a computer, and basic supplies like notebook paper and pens and pencils. Sometimes special projects require additional supplies which can be provided when necessary. Monthly online meetings and frequent communication between school and parents ensure that students stay on track. For those families who are not able to be with their students throughout the day Birch can offer an increased level of distance support and supervision.

Teachers are available outside of regular class time for open office hours for full-time students and those enrolled in part-time with additional support,

What kind of Diploma will my student earn if they complete the graduation requirements of The Birch School program?

When students complete their planned program and meet learning goals in a variety of subject areas, and complete a Senior Capstone Project, they earn a Private School Diploma from The Birch School.  Our goal is for students to leave The Birch School ready for whatever they choose next.  We ensure that students have earned “credits” in each of the required subject areas so that they meet the basic admission requirements for colleges they may want to apply to.  Students will also have developed a portfolio of their work that they can use to demonstrate their learning and accomplishments.

What do parents say about the school?

Take a look at our Testimonials page to see what parents have to say about their student’s experiences at The Birch School.

Student groups before/after(?) COVID…

Because each student has their own individual learning plan, we don’t have traditional “class size”. Our students are moving throughout the day from individual learning, to small and large group learning environments. Students are enrolled in classes, with different class size depending on the subject, but ranging from 3 – 20 students.

Each student has an academic “coach”, one of the teachers at the school, who is their main teacher and who is responsible for the day to day support of that student. Each teacher at the school has a group of students for whom they are responsible. Students are roughly grouped into “elementary”. “middle school”, and “high school”.  Our youngest group consists of students in grades 2, 3, 4, 5.  Our Middle group is made up of students in grades 6,7, 8 and our olders are our High Schoolers, grades 9 – 12.  Although work spaces and schedules are dictated by the home grouping, when necessary students cross between the groups often to meet other students at the appropriate learning level.  (This is subject to change depending on CDC and Local Health Department guidelines on social distancing and building capacity)

I’m interested in learning more, what do I do next?

You can call us at 845-645-7772 to ask questions, set up a call with our director or a virtual tour.

We can schedule a virtual visit for your student to our current classes operating via video chat. Contact us for information and an invitation to our virtual classroom.