Frequently Asked Questions by Prospective Parents:

What is holistic education?

Salmonberry School is a Holistic Education school. We see children as natural learners and honor that principle. We recognize that children come to the classroom with many gifts, multiple intelligences and languages, full potential, uniqueness, and natural curiosity. We strive to design a learning environment and to use teaching practices that support children’s characteristic ways of exploring, discovering, and constructing their knowledge of the world. Holistic education seeks to foster a sense of connection to both the natural world and the human community; we feel this approach cultivates social as well as ecological responsibility, a compassionate sense of wonder, and genuine self-understanding. Our principles: We view education from a holistic perspective which means we are concerned with the child’s whole development– emotional, social, physical, moral, spiritual, artistic and creative as well as intellectual dimensions.
We recognize that every child’s life is connected to wider contexts of experience– peers, family, community, culture, and the natural world.

We draw forth the intrinsic motivation of each child so that learning becomes an interactive process that values imagination, creativity and joy.

We encourage members of our learning community to understand, honor, and respect diversity and to pursue this in their actions.

Our teachers build relationships, allow students to construct their own learning, and foster the inquiry and critical thinking skills that inspire a child’s connection to his/her world.

We teach children to honor the rights of the individual and embrace responsibility to community.

We develop in children an understanding of how to live harmoniously with the environment both now and over time.

We strive to integrate study across disciplines through the use of rich themes.  In this way the curriculum gains meaning and wholeness.

What distinguishes Salmonberry’s approach to teaching?

At Salmonberry, learners and teachers form a community with a dynamic life of its own.  Teachers join children in their sense of wonder as they learn. Teachers work to develop relationships with each child, to understand each child as a unique individual, and to help facilitate their learning. Teachers collaborate with students by sensitively observing, listening, actively participating in, and documenting discoveries. Through these elements, teachers guide learning by providing appropriate materials and activities, asking provocative questions, and by supporting creative risk-taking. Teachers encourage children to make connections, see relationships, and take multiple perspectives throughout their learning. Teachers at Salmonberry seek to develop critical and reflective thinking skills allowing students to construct their own learning and knowledge through inquiry.

Our teachers emphasize a constructivist approach to learning: “Children do not gain an authentic understanding of the world by having preselected facts, ideas, texts, and ‘curriculum units’ delivered to them by adults, but that they construct their knowledge by interacting with their environment according to the characteristic capacities of each stage of development. It is the educator’s task to stimulate and call to these capacities, turning the learner loose to experiment, explore and discover.” – Ron Miller

If individual students are reading or doing math at higher or lower levels than their peers, how will their needs be accommodated?

We firmly believe that children best acquire skills when they are developmentally ready to do so. Therefore, instruction at Salmonberry is designed to suit the needs and strengths of individual learners. Salmonberry classrooms are generally staffed with a 7:1 (or lower) teacher-to-student ratio, which gives our teachers the opportunity to plan, differentiate, and deliver engaging and developmentally appropriate instruction for all students.

One of the benefits of our multi-age environment is that a student whose skills exceed that of same-age peers, can easily be placed within an appropriate and challenging classroom setting.  Similarly, a student who needs a little more time to develop skills, can usually have their needs accommodated without any stigmatization associated with “special education.”

However, as a small school, we do recognize certain limitations when considering students for enrollment. Salmonberry does not employ specialists to support students with exceptional educational needs. While the training and dedication of our teachers allows us to teach a variety of students, some with significant learning differences, we reserve the right to determine that a child would be better served in a setting where specialized interventions are offered as part of the school program.

What is Salmonberry’s tuition?

Tuition and fees may vary depending upon the hours and days of enrollment and the age of the child.  Tuition assistance may be available to qualified families.  Please contact us for current tuition and fee information.

Does Salmonberry assess its students’ progress?

Salmonberry believes deeply in the value of continuous meaningful assessment.  Parents and teachers collaborate twice a year to set individualized academic as well as social and behavioral goals for each student.  The content of these goal-setting conferences become the basis for in-depth narrative style written progress summaries, which parents receive from teachers at the end of each semester.

In addition, teachers engage in continuous assessment in all areas of instruction.  Teachers use the students’ daily performance as well as their years of experience and professional training to ensure that adequate progress is made in all areas.  They make use of holistic methods of assessment from the reading record, to six-traits writing analysis, to portfolios, in addition to more traditional end-of-unit quizzes in the older grades to document student progress.  Teachers report evidence of progress informally and anecdotally throughout the year. Any areas of significant concern, be they academic, social or emotional, are quickly called to parents’ attention and further collaboration ensues immediately. Any parents with concerns are strongly encouraged to contact the classroom teachers directly and initiate a dialogue.

Do Salmonberry students take Standardized tests?

Ultimately whether a student participates in standardized tests is the decision of his/her parent.  Salmonberry teachers occasionally recommend diagnostic assessment in targeted areas in an effort to answer specific questions about a student’s progress or learning style.  In general, Salmonberry does not recognize value in most standardized methods of assessment in the elementary grades.  We find that these assessments tend to flatten and over-simplify development, which is a very complex and multi-dimensional process.  Standardized tests tend to raise stress for students and teachers prematurely and unnecessarily.  And the results are often very limited, not taking into account the value of higher level thinking skills of analysis, synthesis, evaluation and critical thinking, much less the social and emotional components of child development.  We do not use letter grades to evaluate student progress for similar reasons.  We believe that the teacher is almost always able to provide excellent information about students’ progress.  Like all aspects of learning at Salmonberry assessment is done individually within a context of caring teacher-learner relationships.

Does Salmonberry teach academics in Kindergarten?

Yes, Salmonberry has a developmentally appropriate and individualized approach to Kindergarten, but in general, students are introduced to beginning math and literacy skills that prepare them very well for the academic challenges to come in the grades.

The particular opportunities and challenges of this stage of development are reflected in Salmonberry’s carefully crafted Kindergarten program.  This is a year of tremendous growth and change for children and Salmonberry makes every effort to provide the optimal bridge between play-based and explorational early childhood and a deeply engaging, rigorous and project-based elementary program.  Students are given the gift of combining time in a multi-age early childhood environment in the morning hours with an intimate Kindergarten-only environment in the afternoons.  Please see Salmonberry’s Kindergarten Program page for a detailed description of this program.

How do students transition from Salmonberry into subsequent learning environments?

We find that Salmonberry students are exceptionally well prepared and transition easily to a wide range of learning environments.  Salmonberry students are confident and self-directed learners who are aware of their own learning styles and believe that learning is a meaningful, relevant and joyful process.  They are excellent community members as well as strong advocates for themselves.  They have excellent skills in comparison to same-age peers in other environments.  These factors combine to ensure very strong transitions away from Salmonberry.

Salmonberry graduates have gone on to public school, other private schools, including the Spring Street International School in Friday Harbor, The Orcas Christian School, and home-based learning.  We are very proud to report that in general all of our graduates have been very successful in these environments.  According to our most current data of all the students who attended Salmonberry for at least three years and then subsequently enrolled in the Orcas public middle school, 100% have been recognized with honors or high honors.  Salmonberry alumni have been placed in accelerated math and reading programs, and in some cases skipped entire grade levels in order to find appropriate levels of challenge.

Perhaps the only area of challenge for most families who move their children to other schools is getting used to the decreased intimacy and lack of immediate access to information about their children’s progress and program in some other institutions.  Salmonberry parents come to expect to be appreciated as welcome collaborators in their child’s education.

Does Salmonberry include technology in its program?

We believe that the most meaningful and impactful learning encounters for elementary and preschool-age children are firsthand and experiential.  In general, we feel that the interface of the screen and the plastic keyboard detract from the type of engaged learning that we strive to reach.  We make every effort to connect students with one another, with caring teachers, with their own interiority and with living subjects.

The Salmon classroom is completely technology-free, as is the Otters class.  In the Cedars and Eagles, students do not use computers in the classroom.  On occasion, teachers may use the assistance of computers as a resource.  And sometimes students do home-based research using computers and the internet as learning tools.  Teachers remain mindful of the potential drawbacks to the use of computers while simultaneously recognizing the powerful capabilities of this tool when used in a targeted manner.  We have found that when our students transition to other learning environments they have no trouble adapting to the presence of computers or the requisite skills.

How does Salmonberry meet the diverse needs of students within a multi-age classroom?

Salmonberry teachers are exceptionally well prepared to meet the diverse needs of their students.  Limiting the class size to approximately 15 students, often with two teachers, dramatically increases teachers’ ability to recognize and meet individual needs.  In general two strategies are employed to ensure that student needs are met: differentiation and open-ended project-based learning.

Differentiation: Teachers differentiate instruction for learners at different skill levels.  In particular in the areas of language arts and math, students are placed into skill level groups so they can receive instruction at their developmental level.  For example, a classroom might have two or even three different texts and curricula being used at one time.  Even within a skill-level group assignments might be given differentially as the teacher accommodates the various areas of skill, learning styles, parent goals, and student interest areas of her group

Project-based learning: Content areas, including science, social studies and the arts often take advantage of a thematic approach that allows individual learners to engage with a subject to whatever level of depth they are able and experience success.  Students might be encouraged to share their understanding of a subject, that might allow certain students to create a physical model with labels, while others may write an in-depth analytical paper.  Teachers are always mindful to challenge individual learners to achieve to the very best of their ability and reach their full potential.

Does Salmonberry provide a rigorous academic program?

Absolutely!  Salmonberry teachers expect nothing less than full participation, deep engagement and consistently working for excellence from our students.  Unlike some schools that define rigor by piles of mass-produced homework, weighty textbooks and frequent high stakes tests, Salmonberry infuses its program with a different kind of rigor.  Salmonberry students are held accountable for producing their very best individual work.  They are expected to bring all of themselves to each learning encounter.  Beyond that they are expected to provide leadership and positive modeling to the learning community, making everyone’s progress, understanding and achievement their business.

Salmonberry teachers look for every opportunity to capitalize on individual students’ areas of interest, passion and particular learning styles and strengths.  Far from settling for “proficiency” of skills, students are encouraged to become self-actualized learners and reach well beyond any articulation of a pre-determined state standard for students of their particular age.  Salmonberry works to realize a “culture of excellence,” where every aspect of learning, be it dance or math, music or science is approached with an intent to dive deeply into one’s study and emerge enriched and engaged. .  Learning is not something they just do from 9-3, separate from who they “really are.”  To the contrary, it is through this kind of rigorous approach that Salmonberry students come to know learning as personally meaningful and an important aspect of who they are.

Can non-enrolled students take classes at Salmonberry, such as those who participate in Orcas Island School District’s Oasis program?

Occasionally there may be limited placements available for non-enrolled students, age 5 or older, who are interested in taking specific classes on a part-time basis. In addition to being a WA State Approved Private School, we are also a Learning Center, and have at times been able to offer more targeted classroom experiences.  Please contact us for more information about part-time enrollment.