BIRCH SCHOOL EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY

Since our founding

Eight years ago our founding team set out to create a student-centered environment where students have agency and choices in learning.  Since then we have co-created, adapted and experimented with this learning community.  We observe, ask questions of our learners, and adjust to adapt. In fact, adaptation is a basic foundation of our ecology-based philosophy. We believe the strongest communities adapt spontaneously to their environment.

Our current health crisis is prompting adaptation across all sectors of our society.  We see this as beneficial and are actively seizing the opportunity to adapt in our part of the world: supporting young people as they learn and grow. 

Remote learning (or “emergency learning” as some have called it)  has allowed millions of parents, students and teachers to see that students can learn in ways unique to them and still be successful. In some cases students are finding even more success in this environment of relaxed standardization. 

Blended, Hybrid, Online and In-Person, Customized

Personalized learning plans can serve as the foundation of a student’s schooling, allowing for customization.  Study isn’t limited to an assigned grade level, and can expand into areas of interest and student strength. The pace of learning can be adjusted to fit student need.  

What we know is that one learner’s plan will look different from another learner’s plan. All children are different, and no two learning plans will be alike.  Combine this with the uncertainty about being together safely in school and the value of a blended, hybrid, online-and-in-person learning experience seems evident.  

Our program provides modules of learning that allow for customization of learning plans as families choose experiences for their children.  Mornings, afternoons, core subjects, academic support, one-to-one tutoring, in-person, virtual, are all choices to be made.  This allows for complete customization and fluid transitions between learning locations.

Children learn at different paces

We believe that children are naturally creative and highly divergent in their thinking about problems and solutions. Children learn at different paces and have different interests, strengths and weaknesses. Learning at the Birch School is individualized.

Our focus is holistic, and our priority is to support child-led interests and activities. Individualized curricula, combined with authentic participation in community life form the core of the program.

A Community of Kindness

The Birch School is a connected learning community. Our connections are many: to each other, to the natural world and to our larger community. We are systems thinkers, and encourage understanding of our individual roles and responsibilities in the natural and social eco-systems we inhabit. We foster awe and joy in self-directed learning in a community of learners.

We embrace and embody concepts of character education. We teach responsibility, respect, and caring, in a community of kindness. We are conscious about the way we interact with one another, and encourage positive attitudes.

The Birch School is a lively learning community where students explore together in a supportive creative atmosphere. The program is centered on creativity, and the natural unfolding of a young person’s personality. Each student follows their own individual path, outlined in cooperation with parents, teachers and mentors.

Conscious participation in community

We create a safe, caring community guided by knowledgeable, passionate adults in which our children can learn and grow. We have a clearly defined democratic process that we, as a school, consciously participate in. Students take responsibility for themselves, learn to keep their word and be accountable to others, and to communicate their ideas and feelings. We avoid the creation of hierarchies, avoid practices of domination and power-over and use strategies of collaboration and co-learning between students, their teachers and each other.

Teachers mentor, question and encourage. Learning involves discussion and analysis in small groups and one-on-one discussions, both formally and informally, Students also participate in field trips, projects, experiments, lectures, creative work, art, writing, and workbooks.

We inspire children to learn by promoting the natural love of learning that all children are born with, resulting in a deeper commitment to their own education.

A school is not just a place to learn academic skills. Rather, it is a community of families coming together for the purpose of educating and growing a child.We are a small school serving families who desire to partner with us to create an individualized approach to promote students learning.

The Birch School and Education Reimagined

The Birch School is part of a national network of educators working to improve learning by redesigning the educational process. Education Reimagined is a national organization of progressive educators focused on putting learners at the center.

These are links to two articles about the Birch School published in the Education Reimagined Journal

Birch Partners

We look to Ron Berger and Expeditionary Learning Model to offer structure for student excellence. The Birch School utilizes many Expeditionary Learning tools and approaches.

Harvard Graduate School of Education Project Zero informs us as we help students make thinking visible. 

As partners of The National Writing Project and Educator Innovator, we are educating students to be producers in the new digital age of information. Birch students participate in the NWP’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each fall, joining students all over the US in a writing challenge that inspires and encourages extensive writing projects. Birch students have written thousands of words as part of the NaNoWriMo competition.


Listen to Director Kate Fox interviewed about The Birch School on Rockland World Radio

Connections with Deborah Turner

September 2015

Interview starts at 1:12

September 2013

Connections, story with Deborah Turner

Interview starts at 1:00

Link to more info answering the question: Should a student-centric, user-generated education be the predominant learning model for this era of the 21st Century?


Our history as Watershed Learning Center

Students at the first iteration of the Birch School, Watershed Learning Center, in 2009

The Birch School developed from our previous work as The Watershed Learning Center. While still taking inspiration from Watershed Learning Center, The Birch School became incorporated as an independent, non-public, non-profit school in 2014.

We began the Watershed Learning Center because we are fundamentally concerned with our relationship with nature.

We sought to be a learning community studying how we might live within the natural world in a sustainable way.

The Watershed Learning Center, and now The Birch School, provides a context for student’s spontaneous growth and learning, as well as structure for organizing and understanding their journey. The school day is structured to provide a strong academic program, and within the structure students take responsibility for making their own choices. Our daily pattern regularly includes a “School Circle” where the school community, including students and teachers, convenes to discuss the day’s activities, share surprises, good news, problems, and sing songs. Group problem-solving, kindness and cooperation are encouraged.

In a community of learners, every member’s unique qualities add to the complexity and diversity of the whole group. Our students are a mix of ages and talents and levels of ability. We don’t attempt to homogenize or standardize them.

We encourage group participation, and consider each child and each family part of the school community. We have weekly and daily school meetings where all students are asked to participate.

We have a clearly defined democratic process that we, as a school, consciously participate in. Students take responsibility for themselves, learn to keep their word and be accountable to others, and to communicate their ideas and feelings. We create a safe, caring community guided by knowledgeable, passionate adults in which our children can learn and grow.

We embrace and embody concepts of character education. We teach responsibility, respect, and caring, in a community of kindness. We are conscious about the way we interact with one another, and encourage positive attitudes.

We foster awe and joy in self-directed learning in a community of learners.

Social Ecology

We are environmental activists and artists as well as educators, we are focused on our bioregion, and we teach our students from that engaged world-view.

We hold at our core the principles of Ecology-

  • that the most diverse ecosystems are strongest,
  • that those systems promote diversity spontaneously, and do so with exuberance.
  • that local adaptations favor survival, and are responsive to environmental variations.

At the Watershed Learning Center, and now at The Birch School, we are inspired by and grounded in nature. The natural world sustains human life, and so all things relate back to nature. In these times of limited resources and increasing human damage to the natural world, we believe it is more important than ever to learn about, appreciate, and relate to nature and the outdoors.  The interrelated ecosystems of which humans play only a small part are complex and beyond comprehension by any individual alone.  We seek to explore and discover our place in natural ecosystems, starting from where we are.

We take inspiration from what we see in the natural world. At the Watershed Learning Center and The Birch School we embrace diversity, and honor and celebrate the unique contribution that each child makes to the school community.