The PONS Learning Approach
progressive, differentiated, environmentally-focused education model
small, multiage community-minded classes
highly trained educators who facilitate place-based inquiry, exploration, and research
alternative forms of assessment including the use of portfolios, projects, and presentations
rich arts program, including studio art, music, and drama
flexible scheduling to support a student's whole self, broader interests, and place within the family
Our literacy program fosters a love of language through reading and thoughtful discussion, self-expression through writing and drama, and gaining new knowledge through research and questioning. From their very beginning at Painted Oak, students are asked, "How does your story start?" They are encouraged to share stories, both written and oral, create songs and poems using inspiration from their environment, and to make their mark on their community.
Reading and writing instruction takes place in whole group and small group settings, in addition to individualized conferences. We promote an integrated approach to language arts so students see how reading, writing, speaking, and listening are interconnected and utilized across all core subject areas. Components include:
Heggerty phonemic awareness program (K-2) and Wilson Fundations program (K-3)
Guided Reading, The Daily 5, and Book Clubs
Picturing Writing framework & Writing Across the Curriculum
Word Work, to include spelling and extending vocabulary
We explore math concepts through everyday experiences so that students can see the real-world applications of our work in math Through partner and small group games, hands-on explorations, the use of natural materials as manipulatives, and lively "light bulb moment" discussions, students gain understanding of concrete facts, are exposed to a variety of strategies, and become flexible math-thinkers.
Math concepts are embedded into conversations and activities throughout the day. We connect literacy to math by encouraging students to use pictures, words, and numbers to represent their strategies in writing. Mathematical stories are also utilized to promote an integrated approach to building numeracy. Students also come to understand that math is everywhere through the integration of this core subject in much of our ongoing project work, typically rooted in science. For our K-8 students, we utilize Illustrative Mathematics. Components include:
Numbers & Operations
Being a nature-based school, it would be expected that science makes a large part of our curriculum. We view our world through a place-based lens. This means that we focus our learning and studies on the plants, animals, topography, geology, and weather that we find and experience here in the Hopewell Valley. While the children may have an interest in mammals found in Kenya, we may utilize their interest to compare to mammals found in New Jersey, but we do not focus units of study around these topics. Studying topics that we find in our local environment helps students to see their place in their world and their community, they understand their impact on their land, and this, in turn, empowers them to take action in their own backyard.
Our program is strengthened by the rich resources we have within close range such as The Watershed Institute, the Washington Crossing State Park and Nature Center, the Mercer County Wildlife Center, and the Sourland Mountains, in addition to hundreds or acres of preserved green space, parks, and farms.
Cultures & Communities*
Building off of our place-based learning, community is one of our school's core values. Focusing on the people who make up our 'place' helps students feel rooted, connected, and part of something bigger than just themselves. We come to understand and respect the people who came before us 'in this place,' we find comfort in knowing the cultural and geographical history of 'this place,' and this knowledge provides students insight into why decisions are made in a community in regard to urban planning.
We give much time to supporting interpersonal skills facilitated through group projects, research, and inquiry. Our primary school students are also given leadership opportunities through our various buddy programs, assisting with chores such as collecting the compost and recycling, preparing snack,and helping our preschoolers up from nap. This forms strong bonds across the age groups and creates feelings of belonging and family.
The art program is rooted in inquiry. "How can I make that?" "What tool do I need?" "How do I use my hands to make my idea happen?" We connect art history with nature and to the classroom curriculum. Students made paint by grinding rocks at the creek, they made paper ponds inspired by Monet's waterlilies, and when frogs were studied in a classroom, they were recreated in the Art Studio making sure to include the correct number of toes for the particular species of frog that lives at Painted Oak. These details matter to the students because this is their world. The students take pride in their work and see themselves as artists. Our culminating Art Gala each Spring celebrates the student's work and their expression of their journey.
* all core skills are guided by the New Jersey Learning Standards, K-8