A Time Magazine cover story, “How to Build a Student for the 21st Century” identified four areas essential for students to become successful citizens in a globalized world: Thinking outside the box, becoming smarter about new sources of information, developing good people skills and knowing more about the world. Although the discussion about 21st-century skills is often reported as breaking news, The Long Ridge School curriculum has been graduating students with these four skills since its founding in 1938.
1) Thinking outside the box
“Outside the box thinking” is critical for invention, innovation and problem solving. It requires a great deal of creativity, the ability to synthesize information from different disciplines and the deftness to shift perspectives. This skill is fostered at The Long Ridge School beginning with our two-year-olds through an innovative interdisciplinary curriculum. This may sound like educational jargon, but it simply means subjects are organized around themes to help students think across disciplines. Take, for example, the second and third grade theme, “The Story of Writing: From Cave Paintings to Cyber Space.” In art, students studied and then created cave paintings, learned book binding, and made Egyptian cartouches; in Science, children studied archeology and the plants used to make dyes and paper; in Music, children learned songs and dances from the eras they studied; and in Language Arts, students learned about hieroglyphics and alphabets and read myths from different cultures. This type of learning helps children become more versatile and creative in their thinking, allowing them opportunities to realize their knowledge from many points of view.
2) Developing good people skills
At Long Ridge, classes are organized in two-year age groupings to accommodate the range of development typical of young children. Students work at their own pace and benefit from a curriculum that is truly individualized to their level and learning style. Another extraordinary benefit is that children begin to interact and work in groups with children of different ages creating a real world community. Children are comfortable working and playing with younger and older students, dissolving the boundaries between grades. The school community values individualism which in turn fosters the self-esteem necessary to confidently share ideas in group work.
Opportunities to develop oral expression and public speaking skills are built into the day. Teachers may help a three-year-old to contribute during circle time, ask a second-grader to explain a math challenge during assembly or give feedback on a final farewell speech for graduation. In all its forms, the skill of articulating ideas is valued and cultivated. Similarly, the writing program has a strong focus on clear expression, thoughtful critiques, persuasive essays and compelling arguments.
3) Becoming smarter about new sources of information
Themes at Long Ridge begin with a list of student-generated questions which are answered throughout the course of the study. Teachers and students then partner in their quest to answer the questions through research, experimentation, and project work. The children first learn to collect information in the traditional way in the school’s 8,000 volume library. The information is not simply recorded and reported; it is expected that children evaluate their sources and read with a critical eye. This is a crucial skill for our older students as they begin to use the internet and must filter vast amounts of sources, not all of which are reliable. Fifth-graders participate in a Million Dollar Project for which they conduct in-depth research to develop a new business and calculate all of their projected expenses. The children present their business plans to the class using charts, graphics, Power Point and Smart Board applications, or through plays, videos and animations.
4) Knowing more about the world
The Long Ridge School is a diverse community of learners. Children first become aware of other countries and cultures as we celebrate each others’ traditions and holidays. The thematic studies are vehicles specifically chosen to allow students to develop a respect and appreciation of peoples from different times and places. Geography is taught as a natural part of all subjects. Beginning in Kindergarten, children study Spanish to facilitate later language learning and fluency. The school also participates in the Ridgefield-based Creative Connections programs. Students write letters, create artwork and perform in a music video that is shared with a pen-pal school in another country. Long Ridge students graduate with the sensitivity and knowledge to be good citizens of our planet with respect for people and the environment.