Andrew Campanella: What makes New Hope School special?
Robert Beebe, principal of New Hope School: We were founded by a couple mothers about 23 years ago now. They wanted to offer something different for their own children, where there would be an equal emphasis on both academics and character building. When we have our opening presentation at our open houses, we have a pyramid that we show about our approach to education. The foundation begins with what we call cultivation of the heart. This begins in the home before even coming to school. We should first of all be concerned about developing children’s hearts, which is the basis of their character. To use knowledge and skills properly, we emphasize the importance of good heart development and also norms of behavior, so that you use your knowledge for the benefit of society and not for your own self-advantage.
Andrew: Is there a large component of community service and volunteering that goes on in your school?
Robert: Yes, we make an effort to do various kinds of service projects during the year within the school itself or to the community at large. For example, we have an annual event where we go to the city hall and our choir sings for the mayor and staff. They really enjoy that. We also go to local senior citizen centers and sing for them or serve them in various ways. We have food drives and clothing drives.
Andrew: What are some ways the school environment promotes character formation?
Robert: During the course of a school day, teachers are always looking for opportunities to engage the students in reference to [our virtue program]. We use a resource called Core Virtues, which talks about important virtues to build in yourself.
We encourage older students to help take care of younger ones. We’re a relatively small school, and we try to build a family feeling here, so the older ones feel like older brothers and sisters to the younger ones. They do reading buddies once a week. The older kids go into the younger kids’ classrooms and read with them one-on-one.
On the playground we encourage the older ones to include the younger kids in their games as much as they can. Maintaining a family atmosphere is important to us. They’re all kind of like brothers and sisters, not just classmates.
Andrew: Your school does project-based learning and each grade level has a different project that they work on. Tell me more about these projects.
Robert: We wanted to do something that’s engaging and connected with real life. I asked the teachers to come up with [a project] in each of their classrooms where they could connect students with something that’s relevant to real life. For example, the fourth and fifth graders did a project on the history of Clifton. They started with a visit to the mayor, they did an interview with the mayor about Clifton. He’s been the mayor here for 20 years so he knows everything about Clifton. Then they chose different parts of the city to try to understand its history and what it looks like today. Our students come from not just Clifton but the surrounding area too, but in this case they were all from Clifton. That was neat that they would learn about [their hometown]. Other classes do other things. One compared Mars and Earth and did a PowerPoint presentation for some of the younger classes. We’re building toward doing things that will connect with the community around us in Clifton and in the real world in general.
Andrew: How does your school participate in National School Choice Week?
Robert: During National School Choice Week we always have an open house. We try to center it on that and introduce new parents to our school. We emphasize that this is National School Choice Week. We send a notice out to the local media and we also try to get the mayor to proclaim that week as National School Choice Week, which he usually does. Then we take a picture with the scarves, and students always enjoy getting those scarves. It comes at a good time; it gets cold before I give them out, so they’ll really use them.
Andrew Campanella is President of National School Choice Week.
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