Sedona Charter School

As we passed through the scenic views and majestic red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, we were excited to visit the Sedona Charter School, the oldest charter school in the state. They follow the Montessori method for their 150 elementary and middle school students. Upon arrival at the school, we were greeted by Megan who had recently started working for the school, overseeing aspects of the school’s finances and administration. She shared with us that she had previously been working in the hotel industry and commented on how so many tourists come on vacation, and end up being miserable. It has been an uplifting experience for Megan to be at the school because, “Here, all the children are full of joy.”

Megan also helped us to understand a bit more about charter schools and how they are funded by the state and all the students come from Sedona or the surrounding towns. This was the first charter school that we had visited and we were curious to learn more about them. Although they are a public school, as a charter school they have different criteria, such as how the students don’t have homework and the only tests are the standardized ones which are required by the state. They seem to form an interesting bridge between mainstream and alternative education.

We also had a chance to chat with Amy Fultz, the director of the school. Amy shared with us some wonderful insights about running a charter school. One observation she made was how at charter schools, versus private schools, it is sometimes more challenging to find families that are a good fit for the school’s model. As a public school the process for enrollment is different than at a private school where you can be more direct with families about whether or not the schools methods and values align with the families expectations. Since time spent at school is no different than time spent at home, it is important that there is some mutual understanding and shared approaches between teachers, administration, and families. To support this type of consistency, Amy has been sending short teachings about the montessori methods via email as well as working to organize speakers and other various programming that aim to support family involvement and understanding.

The Sedona Charter School was also a place for us to learn more about Maria Montessori and her incredible contribution to education and child development. Through years of careful and meticulous child observation, Dr. Montessori recognized methods that best supported mentally challenged children and translated that to the larger population of children in typical school settings. “Her experiences convinced her that intelligence is not rare and that most newborns come into the the world with human potential that will be barely revealed.” (Tomorrow’s Child Magazine Montessori 101.) Montessori developed manipulatives that engaged children for long periods of concentration and designed classroom spaces that supported learning, such as by creating child-sized furniture. Many of Montessori’s educational devices and school designs have been adopted by schools that follow Montessori’s method, as well as other types of early childhood programs.

Another discovery that Montessori brought to our current understanding of early childhood development is the concept of ‘sensitive periods.’ Sensitive periods are a critical time during human development when the child is biologically ready and receptive to acquiring a specific skill or ability—such as the use of language or a sense of order—and is therefore particularly sensitive to stimuli that promote the development of that skill.  Montessori came to understand these periods through her careful observation of children. Amy shared that teachers at SCS maintain this keen ability of observation along with the ability to work with a variety of types of students and learning styles. They often develop individual learning plans and encourage creativity.

Montessori schools also follow the ‘cosmic curriculum’ which gives children, “A vision of the universe to help them discover how all of its parts are interconnected and interdependent, and to help them understand their place in society and the world. In Montessori schools, children in Elementary programs (between the ages of 6 – 12) learn about the creation of the universe through stories that integrate the studies of astronomy, chemistry, biology, geography, and history. These lessons help children become aware of their own roles and responsibilities as humans and as members of society, and help them explore their “cosmic task”—their unique, meaningful purpose in the world.

Sedona Charter School had a beautiful mural around the inner wall of their green space that represented this evolution of the cosmos. In addition, Amy shared about the peace curriculum that supported spiritual input for the students. For example, some classrooms had a quiet corner or breathing practices such as deep breathing, smell a rose (inhale), blow a candle (exhale.) Amy described the school as both a place of joy and peace with a “happy buzz” of chit chat. This lead her to display her open gesture of joy.

We want to thank Amy and all those at Sedona Charter School for welcoming us to the school and sharing with us about their approach to learning.