In fact, I am confused by the negative review posted by a "second year teacher planning on leaving at end of year" who felt that staff children had behavior problems and were untouchable. No teachers left except one for medical reasons. This of course puts her in a vulnerable positon for assumptions as well as harms staff children reading the review. If you want to know of effectiveness of teachers, come to Opal School's Summer Symposium or read our blog for teacher reflections.
My daughter attended the Opal Beginning Preschool with Teachers Caroline Wolfe and Lauren Adams for two years. She got into the charter just over a year ago and has been in a K-1 Blend with lead teacher Nicole Simpson. I have been an early childhood educator for 22 years with a degree in Early Childhood Development. I must say that I could not dream of a more responsive and stimulating environment. My daughter sees everyone in her community as a friend and cares deeply for those who must work hard to cultivate a sense of belonging. She writes and reads at grade level and while mathematical concepts don't come easy to her, she loves and feels confident to take on new challenges. To fall in love with learning, nurture empathy and be open to risk is more than I could have asked for. To be recognized for her unique gifts by her peers and teachers is all the more amazing. I can't say enough.
BC: People’s stories are probably one of the most valuable things you have in life. If you want to have a relationship with someone or feel something with someone you need to be able to understand their story. Opal has taught me how to do that- the when, why and who of relationships and caring about someone and their story. I have learned how important stories are and how vividly they can change lives.
We’ve been talking about how we can connect the stories of history to our public and private lives. Our public life is our outside appearance and what people think of us when they see us, their impression of us. I feel like our private life is our story, what we think about ourselves and what we are, not always what people see. Connecting history to our public and private lives is crucial because it allows us to look back on what we as a human race may have forgotten. Learning from the past helps us know what to do in the future.
There will never be a world without problems or mistakes, but looking back to the past and seeing the stories helps you realize the consequences of decisions people made. Mistakes are opportunities for learning.
Once you understand another person’s story, you will be changed. Once you come to care about and understand another person, there is love. You carry everyone else’s stories with you and that helps you see the world differently.
NT: At Opal we think a lot about how to communicate ideas. It’s like translating. It’s a really important part because if you can’t do that nobody else can share the amazingness of your idea.
Before you translate your idea through words or materials, you know it’s there but you don’t know what it is or how it works. As you change your idea into something you can say or see that other people can understand, then you sort of understand it better yourself. It’s a way of understanding not just for other people, but for yourself. You can think you understand something but when you translate it into another language you really understand it more- what it is, compared to what you initially thought it was, is so different… One of the gifts of Opal is learning how to translate your ideas from only being in your head to being something that’s part of the community.
These words from recent Opal Graduates say it all!
Differences are welcomed yet respectful ways of expressing these differences in thinking and beliefs are constantly being constructed throughout the age levels. You see this in the many ways teachers structure opportunities to build community through morning meetings, shared joyful experiences, learning one another's stories, partner and project work based on children's interests and so much more.
The teachers believe that above all, students must feel a strong sense of belonging in order to bring the best of who they are to their work. Therefore, social emotional learning goes hand in hand with the work. Students at every grade level build an ever expanding understanding of words such as perspective, empathy, compassion through action, pictures, games, dialogues and stories--their own and those throughout books and history. This is reflected in the quality of the work produced. See the Opal School Blog and all student work reflects this level of connection and value of differences and shared responsibility to one another.
Conflict resolution is grounded in inquiry based practice which includes gathering all perspectives and considers the context in which a conflict occurred. This honors and respects all parties and is based in the belief that no one deserves to be defined by their mistakes. Conflict is viewed as opportunity for growth, transformation and change. What could be more fair, honest and full of integrity than this approach?
My son attended the Opal PRE-kindergarten which most of the parents considered to be a transitional year for our children, especially in the case of some boys, who have a later birthday and need the time to develop more before going to kindergarten. Some parents have seemed upset that it was not a kindergarten year and seem to not understand that, depending on the child, this is a transitional type of program, i.e. PRE-KINDERGARTEN, and thus given data of their son based on leaving kindergarten , not entering it. This school was perfect for my son who learns in a very different way and who is on the spectrum, I have just found out. In retrospect the care and individual attention he received by the teachers was exceptional. It was exactly what he needed to prepare for kindergarten in the public system. This program set him up for having a positive attitude toward learning and for a more structured environment. The extra perk of enjoying every aspect of the museum (gratis membership) was also something we benefitted from every day after school in the Zany maze or in the extraordinary Outdoor Adventure. Not to mention the incredible arboretum and Oregon zoo! How many children get to say that they had a school experience where the zoo was a hop, skip and a jump away? Kimie Fukuda and Michelle Meier along with their support staff were incredibly talented, intuitive, compassionate gifts to their profession and I am so grateful to have had their influence in my son's educational experience. Priceless on so many levels….
To say that our experience has been frustrating would be accurate. We received an acceptance letter for kindergarten at 8am, then a letter saying that they had "inadvertently" sent out acceptances to everyone who had applied and that they would have the actual results to us by 4pm. At 5:30 we received a rejection letter. I have very serious doubts about the competence and ability of the staff and administration here after my interactions with the school during this fiasco. I think we may have dodged a bullet and will not consider Opal school at any point going forward.
I'm a second year teacher at Opal. I came to Opal because I fell in love with the educational philosophy; however, that philosophy and culture to not extend to the staff of the Opal school. The founding teachers push non-founding teachers so hard we all break at some point and the teacher turnover is the highest in Portland Public Schools The open dialogue and imagination are only available to founding teachers. The rest of us are berated to conform. As a school with high teacher to student ratio and one that allows children of teachers to be in the program many of the students are children of Opal School teachers. Many of whom have behavioral issues and are untouchable. Overall I still love the philosophy of education and am inspired by some of the amazing dialogues and work with my peers. However, what has been demanded of me has been challenging as the work is great; however it is the how it has been demanded that is wounding and difficult to handle and why a number of the 2 and 3 year tenured teachers will be leaving after this year.
The Opal School has been a tremendous gift to our family, and I cannot say enough positive things about the education our child is receiving there. We have one child in our neighborhood school and one at Opal, and wow....the differences are incredible. Opal is truly a magical place, and approaches education from so many different directions -- social, emotional, academic, artistic, physical. Out child continues to grow as a confident, sensitive and inquisitive collaborator in her education, and this is in large part to the competent and brilliant educators at Opal. She knows deeply that she has the power to learn, and even at 5 years old she is able to articulate that confidence and chart a path forward. The teachers and staff are hugely committed to the school and to children and families. We have been welcomed into the community with open arms, and have been provided with loads of opportunities for volunteering and other social events. Our child is absolutely thriving at Opal. We feel hugely grateful that this school exists in Portland, and also that they work so hard to share their research and insight with other local programs and schools.