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- We are dedicated to the development of the heart, mind and voice of every child. This work uses critical thinking skills, appropriate academic engagement, self-reflection, and a sense of humor to promote social, emotional, physical, and creative growth.
- In our school community, everyone’s bodies and feelings are safe and valued. This is accomplished through non-violent conflict resolution, and consistent support from peers, students of all ages, teachers, and other advisors.
- We strive to create a family atmosphere where members of all ages know, respect, and learn from each other.
- We practice democracy through “Family Meetings” and other age appropriate decision-making approaches.
- We nurture each child’s unique qualities while helping him/her to become aware of the delicate balance between individual voice and community responsibility.
- We believe that children develop a sense of responsibility when given freedom to make choices.
- Our school is independent and our class sizes are small. This allows us to individualize our curriculum and make learning more hands-on, engaging, and fun.
- Our teachers are enthusiastic and deeply committed because they are free to share their interests and given space for personal growth. We build classroom curriculum around the passions of teachers and students and connect it with developmentally appropriate milestones.
- Our commitment to a meaningful relationship with each student and their family extends beyond the school day/school year. Teachers and staff are available whenever need arises.
- Our school should be a microcosm of the community. In the selection of students, diversity is crucial and ability to pay should be of minimal importance.
Nurturing the whole child
Academics is just one part of the curriculum. Harmony teachers and staff are concerned about the social and emotional growth of our students as well. The Ethos is printed on a banner, signed by all students each year and hung in the hall. See the sidebar on the right, or click here to read it.
Family meetings are held in each program. This is an opportunity for students to work together to plan, solve problems and deal with interpersonal issues. Because the school is small, because there are students of all ages and because there are large times set aside for socializing, students are supported in their efforts to figure out how to get along with one another.
Students consider conflict and mistakes as opportunities to grow. “Misbehavior” is treated as an opportunity in which a person can learn to take responsibility for his behavior. All students in the elementary take classes in conflict resolution and sixth graders are called on to serve as mediators for the younger children.
Around Harmony one often hears the phrase, “We all need to learn to try to balance individual needs with our responsibility to the community.” While students are encouraged to discover their own strengths and interests, and teachers work to create environments in which students’ individual needs can be met, there is also an emphasis on creating a caring community in which everyone is encouraged to contribute to others, either the classroom, the school or the larger society.
The school considers it important for students to feel empowered to make a difference in the world, and this involves understanding the needs of the community and finding a place in which individuals can give what they’re able. This is encouraged in many classes, and every year Harmony devotes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday to a Social Action Day, in which the entire school explores current social and political issues and examines ways in which students can get involved in the community. Everyone tries to create a place at Harmony in which each person feels like he or she belongs.
Harmony strives to include all students regardless of their abilities, learning style, socio-economic level, ethnic background, sexual orientation, political leaning or religion. Much can be gained by bringing diverse voices together. Students are encouraged to listen to others’ perspectives and to be willing to try on new ideas and a variety of ways of doing things.
In order to work toward this goal one of the main considerations when new students are being selected is to maintain the diversity of the population. Students with special needs are admitted without labels and students are admitted with little consideration given to their ability to pay.
There is much emphasis placed on exposing students to a wide variety of cultures. International guests are invited to the school on a regular basis. We welcome students from other countries as students at Harmony in our International Student Program. If there are controversial international issues to deal with there is a concerted effort to present both sides of the issue, so that students can weigh the information themselves and create their own understandings.
Supporting Freedom with Responsibility
Students are given a lot of freedom at Harmony. Everyone from 6th grade up through high school may leave the campus at lunchtime. There is limited adult supervision before and after school and at lunchtime. Students can generally leave the classroom when they need to go to the restroom or make a phone call. There are no bells or hall passes. Relationships with teachers are very open. Students feel free to talk to their teachers about almost anything, and they will call teachers at home when they need to.
With this freedom comes responsibility. Students are responsible for helping each other. As they grow they learn to be responsible for their own learning. Older students are responsible for providing an example and leadership for the younger students.
Honoring Individual Strengths and Interests
Teachers create their own curriculum. Many times assignments are open ended, and students are given a variety of choices, so they are able to select topics in which they are interested. If students don’t find material particularly engaging or pertinent to them, there is usually an opportunity to negotiate for a different approach or assignment.
Teachers will go out of their way to support a student in developing a talent or interest if this is made known to the staff. Teachers can allow for extra time, bring in extra resources, consult other programs for help or counsel the student on a regular basis in order to allow a student to pursue an interest.
There are many opportunities for students to do their own inquiries. In the elementary students do several “Kids’ queries” in which they spend 2 or 3 weeks several times during the year researching a topic of their choosing. As 6th graders they do a graduation project that is a major study of a topic of choice. In the middle school students also have choice in creative writing and when they do research projects. Eighth graders do a project that is required for graduation from the middle school as do high school seniors.
High school seniors do an extensive graduation project that takes most of the last semester. Many students leave Bloomington and all of them are away from the school. These projects range from learning how to take apart an engine to studying philosophy. Students tend to show great passion when they are pursuing things they are interested in.
Enjoying a relaxed but inspiring learning atmosphere
Harmony students call their teachers by their first names. Visitors say they can feel the relaxed atmosphere the minute they enter the building. It’s believed that students can learn better when they are comfortable, so even though expectations are high, anxiety is low. A primary purpose of the school is to be a happy and joyful place.
To create learning atmospheres that are inspiring and stimulating teachers try to connect curriculum to things that are relevant to students. There are many hands-on activities that tap all of the students’ ways of learning. Field trips are very common, and there are two school buses that are used several times a week to take students out into the community. Some people consider the community as a big part of the classroom. Harmony is fortunate to be located so close to Indiana University, and students take frequent field trips to I.U. labs, the greenhouse, geological sites, displays, plays, presentations, demonstrations, lectures, and multicultural events. Some high school students audit or take classes at the University.
Students often take day trips around Indiana, and once or twice a year they also take extended field trips for 2 – 10 days depending on the age of the children. This might be a city trip to St. Louis, Cincinnati or Chicago or a rural trip to a park, the Red River Gorge or an ocean beach.
Besides core classes that are offered by homeroom teachers mostly in the mornings, students take Exploration and Creation classes in the afternoons. These classes are offered on a monthly basis by teachers, parents and students and cover a wide variety of subjects and activities to many different combinations of ages.
Special days and special months are a vital part of our curriculum. Multicultural Day, Art Day, and Science/Math/Technology Day are all preceded by a month of classes that lead up to a culminating, celebratory day of each of these themes. During the month and on the special days there are a variety of experiences and guests who are experts in their field visit from the community.
Caring for our Natural Environment
Caring for our natural environment is done in a variety of ways. Several times a year we have trash-free lunches. This is an attempt to make students more sensitive to how much waste we create. Each student has a 15-minute job at the end of the day. This allows all of the school to take ownership of our recycling program and keep the building clean. Earth Day is another opportunity to heighten our awareness of ecological issues, and we observe the day as a whole school activity.
Of course, environmental issues are an important part of each science class and many social studies thematic studies. Several of the teachers and staff are deeply involved in social action in the community and organizations that promote thoughtful use of our resources and sustainable living.