If your kid is naturally self motivated to learn then SES is a great place of your kid needs structure, and pressure to learn then don't go to SES. SES is an inspirational environment but the substantive information one needs to make something of that inspiration might not be found at SES. I graduated from SES in 2005 and I am now a PhD student in Energy Policy at OSU, I don't attribute my knowledge and motivation to SES but I remember SES as a place that gave me the time to pursue my interests. School these days can get in the way of one's education, at SES that tends not to happen.
Sunnyside Environmental School... I've now graduated two years ago from SES. I started in Kindergarten and finished through 8th grade. Would you say that I wasted nine years of my life? Some would say yes some would say no. K-3rd grade were easy because I didn't have to learn or do anything yet. In 4th grade I had to write complete sentences and do multiplication problems, I knew nothing because SES didn't set me up. 5th grade was very concerning for my parents because I hadn't learned nearly enough yet to go to middle school. My parents wanted to transfer me to Mt. Tabor middle school; I begged them and cried not to do it because I was so attached to all my friends at SES. When middle school came it was barley enough education. This is concerning, I only had two periods 3 times a week. Math and Spanish and they were only an hour long. I had Science, PE and Art once a week for 45 minutes each. At the end of 8th grade I had my first final and it was to name 25 native plants to Oregon. I knew I needed to change my life around so I applied to a private High School I wouldn't recommend this school unless you're a hippie and you don't care about your child's life.
My family is relocating to Portland and Sunnyside was one of the 10 schools I was excited about visiting. Unfortunately it was the only school out of the 10 that was rude. I walked into the office and politely introduced myself. A woman with a name badge on, Kristy Pearson-Denning, came over to speak to me. She told me that we would be welcome there, but he teachers wouldn't like it if we did. She recommended that we move to the East side of Portland and when I said that this was the neighborhood I was interested in, she told me "not to have an attitude" about the East side of Portland. She advised me that it was very expensive in the Sunnyside neighborhood and that all the people coming to Portland have "pushed the poor people out to the East". Ironic words, since that is where she advised me to go. I asked if I should basically avoid this neighborhood when I look at houses and she backtracked a bit. You couldn't pay me to send my children to this school. The office was so rude and unorganized and it was clear we were not wanted. Good thing the other 9 elementary schools I visited were warm and welcoming. If her plan was to keep a nice, involved family out, she has succeeded.
Our child is finishing up her second year at SES. She is excited about school every single day. I firmly believe this is because her teachers make the teaching "come alive" in real ways for children through their Storyline approach and integrated curriculum. the learning is deeper, and more meaningful, than in most traditional schools. My only concern about the school is the open campus set-up. I do worry about safety during recess and would love to see this concern addressed.
There are some wonderful things about this school such as teaching social responsibility and the importance of protecting our environment but they give out an incredible amount of homework (in middle school at least) and offer no tutoring/after school assistance. If your child has any difficulties academically this is not a good school for you.
After 3 unsuccessful years at SES we have finally decided to move our child to a private school. In our opinion the first and foremost thing teachers in early grades have to do is to make children enjoy learning. The school failed on this big time. The homework assignments were easy but complex (most of the time spend with cutting and gluing than actually learning useful information), and they were rarely graded or returned; this lack of feedback severely undermines learning. The teachers and the principal behaved in ways that will never earn kids' respect, not a good social model. Big emphasis was placed on things that seemed inconsequential (like not wanting to stomp in mud!?). Starting at the private school mid-year she barely qualified to be in her grade (even with once a week private tutoring for 2 yrs). We don't understand how kids can learn in the chaos reigning at SES. All the "great" things SES offers are things parents do at home. I expect a school to teach study habits, self-governance, how to be part of society at large, general knowledge, and reading, writing, and arithmetic. SES is a fail in those areas. If you want your kids to succeed later, look elsewhere.
My child is thriving at Sunnyside Environmental. I would say it's not for every child or parent. There seems to be more emphasis on the whole child, and this is definitely not a "kill and drill" environment. I love the emphasis on personal responsibility and respect within the student body. The culture is unique, creative, and loving. My kid looks forward to going to school, and that says it all.
Sunnyside Environmental School is a beautiful community for hands on learning. Our daughter transferred there during 3rd grade, She is now finishing 5th grade with a passion for reading, creative writing and the natural world. She loves her school and teachers. She has a deep sense of community. Morning "Gathering" is a time for singing and joy. She has ownership and pride in her school work. There is a emphasis on community service, right action and global awareness. The structure is a bit informal, but it encourages student autonomy and creativity on many levels. Perhaps it is not the right choice for every family, but it has been an amazing blessing for us. Long live Sunnyside and its devoted teachers & staff!!!!
My son graduated from SES 2 years ago. He made great friends, had a good experience, but he didn't learn a thing. With little emphasis on academics or studying for the 3 years he was there, he consequently crashed his freshman year of high school. It took months for him to catch up with his peers from other middle schools. He had no study habits as they were not a requirement at SES. Despite the fact it is an environmental sciences school, my son and his SES friends scored poorly in their freshman biology class that was based on NW ecology and environment. Some of the middle school teachers are good, few are great, and a couple make me wonder why they are teachers in the first place. The math program under Sarah Taylor was sub-par. I hope it has improved with Amy. The mandatory weekly neighborhood field trips were a waste of time. There were no textbooks. The district based curriculum was ignored. And morning meeting was a social club, not a class. In case people wonder if perhaps my son had a poor experience because he is not a strong student, he is now at Cleveland earning A's and B's. His younger brother is at Mt. Tabor with text books, microscopes, and consistent teaching.