A neighborhood school with room for neighbors

by Anna Kudak, Ph.D., Board Chair
What Do You Do with an Idea? is both an excellent question and also the title of an inspiring children’s book by Kobi Yamada. The story follows a child who comes up with an idea, which illustrator Mae Besom represents as an egg, for which the child must care. The founding board of St. Paul School of Northern Lights (Northern Lights) big idea started more than two years ago, and will become a reality in September of 2019 when we open our doors in the West Seventh neighborhood.
The idea for this school is the product of three passionate parents who shared an Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) experience under the leadership of Lani Shapiro and Tom Bedard. Under their guidance, the children and adult learners had parallel experiences. We and our children were gently supported and intellectually challenged. We were respected as individuals and inspired to grow into the parents and people we yearned to become. We were deeply connected to each other as a small community and we were constantly pushed to think of our roles in the broader community. It was through this experience that we realized education could and should look, feel, and be different for all kids. This school is designed to support students in their ideas and for adults to be parallel learners.
     Northern Lights believes in a progressive model of learning that ensures that all students have the opportunity to explore our urban ecosystem, including opportunities to learn in nature. We value relationship-based learning and are committed to ensuring equity in educational philosophy and practice. Kindness, curiosity, critical thinking, and a desire to create positive change are the things that set our students apart and prepare them to grow as learners.
The school has three guiding, progressive educational philosophies: Schools in Reggio-Emilia, Italy, the Finnish education system, and the Place-Based approach. Interwoven, they will build the foundation for the school community and act as the driving force to support all students in their pursuit to learn.
All three philosophies focus on: Equity; Relationships; Children as capable learners and citizens; Integrated curriculum, weaving subjects together; Place/Environment as integral to learning; Reflection and collaboration time for students, faculty, and staff. In addition to these commonalities, each philosophy contains unique dimensions that will shape and define the Northern Lights community.
The three philosophies all value the power of place. Place-based education expands the classroom into the surrounding built areas and natural spaces, forging meaningful connections between students and their environment. Place-based education is grounded in what is local, including history, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. As I reflect on neighborhoods, I am immediately reminded of Fred Rogers, who invited children at the earliest ages to participate in the creation of communities. I believe he would have loved the book What Do You Do with an Idea? I can picture him in his sweater, reading it to his audience of captivated children. He aptly said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
At Northern Lights, children will have the dedicated space, opportunity, support, and encouragement to be those heroes. Along with adults, we view children as agents of change who are capable of positively impacting their communities and the environment, today.
We envision an initial school project that will engage students in the neighborhood, exploring what they imagine and understand about cities, St. Paul in particular, and the human, built and natural environment of our school. We are eager to meet you! Please let us know if you would like your business or historical perspective to be included in our investigation. We hope our students will learn from and with the neighborhood. Also, we are committed to learning from and with the families with enrolled students. We seek to be in reciprocal conversations with you about what to do with big ideas.
For more information about our inspiration and guiding philosophies, as well as FAQs about the school, please visit our website schoolofnorthernlights.com.

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