One of the things that frustrates me about social media is that so many people’s lives appear carefully messaged and posed. Instagram photos are doctored with beautiful filters. Facebook posts showcase our very best moments and successes. Our tweets are designed to be witty or biting.
While many of us are guilty of this twenty-first century posturing, it sometimes feels like the things we see online are artificial. It often doesn’t seem real.
When I heard that Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley, Arizona, focused on authenticity in learning, I jumped at the chance to interview them for Highlighting Happiness. Authenticity, I thought, is exactly what society is too often missing. Authenticity is an essential component of happiness.
Coyote Springs does not disappoint. This traditional public school, which serves students in grades K-6, works to tailor each student’s educational experience so that every child can cultivate a love of learning.
One of the things we pride ourselves on with our kids is giving them a voice to figure out the things that interest them, so that they are able to solve problems. – Candice Stump
Candice Stump, the principal at Coyote Springs, says that students identify problems they hope to solve in their communities, and then present them to a panel that includes local elected officials and business leaders.
The school’s instructional specialist, Pamela Clark, provides an example. “I just had the opportunity to sit with a sixth grader who was practicing a speech for the mayor. He wants to share with the mayor how we need to start a recycling program in our town.”
Students at Coyote Springs also have the opportunity to learn in a truly authentic environment. The school built an expansive garden, including a mini-orchard, that serves as the springboard for exploration around several different subjects.
“Our kids actually plant the items, harvest the items, and then take them into the cafeteria,” Stump explains. “We do culinary classes with our kids, and we bring parents in to support that – so not only are our kids learning about the healthy ways of eating and where our meals come from, but they’re looking into how they can garden and grow things themselves. We’re always sending seeds home and plants home along with recipes.”
Part of providing an effective and authentic learning environment is also making sure that students, teachers, and administrators build positive relationships.
“One of the things we do is called ‘two for ten,’” explains Pamela Clark, the school’s instructional specialist. “We want everyone on campus to spend ten minutes with a child for a couple of weeks just getting to know them, talking about things other than school, and every person on campus participates, including teachers, custodians, the cafeteria staff.”
The result is an environment where students are outperforming their peers statewide, and where a feeling of mutual respect has created the atmosphere of family.
“We frequently refer to ourselves here as a ‘Coyote family,’” Stump says. “We just have this natural tendency to surround people with support and kindness and caring. It really is a very unique culture and climate. We do a lot of school tours on our campus because people want to know and see what we’re doing here. As soon as people walk into our building, they just have this feeling of comfort and of happiness and cheer and they express that to you.”
To me, Coyote Springs’ approach provides almost everything that society seems to be missing in the digital age: authenticity, genuine connections, and heartfelt kindness. I am glad that places like Coyote Springs exist, and I hope more families can find environments just like this one for their children.
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