Academics

Redefining the Purpose of Education

November 22, 2022

What Has Been the Purpose of Education? Our education system is outdated and has been running on autopilot for quite some time. While we have amazing teachers throughout our community, our larger education system is antiquated. The continued educational repercussions of the pandemic have forced parents and educators to face concerns about student learning and regression. We have had to pause and reflect on what is working, what’s not, and how we update our approach to education.  The Los Angeles Times released an editorial last year that reflected on the state of education: “Schools have stuck to an outdated system that relies heavily on students’ compliance — completing homework, behaving in class, meeting deadlines and correctly answering questions on a one-time test — as a proxy for learning, rather than measuring the learning itself.” The focus of education has been on the end result versus the learning process, and we…

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TSS: A Love Letter to Teachers

A Love Letter to Teachers

April 27, 2022

Teachers and healthcare workers are the unsung heroes of this pandemic. We keep dumping more and more on them and then expect them to keep going, undaunted. Perhaps it’s time to flip the script. How can we recognize our teachers as experts in their fields and give them the support and resources they need to be successful?  Our teachers recognize that many of their students are stressed and not always available for learning. They know that learning has been lost. They are doing the best that they can. I’ve witnessed firsthand the flexibility and compassion they give their students.  Parents are stressed. Many have children who aren’t doing well. Many teachers are parents too. How do we support one another versus pointing fingers?  It’s time for some systemic change. Why don’t we take a step back and ask teachers what they need? Why don’t we set them up for success…

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Pandemic Learning Loss blog

Pandemic Learning Loss

February 24, 2022

Educators across the country are noticing that students have lost many of the skills they acquired before the pandemic. In some cases, our younger students never developed the skills we expected them to have. For example, lower elementary school teachers are encountering students who have accidents at school because they are not used to asking to go to the bathroom — they have been at home for the past two years, and it was never an issue. Some students are presenting with speech and language issues that have gone unnoticed during the challenges of the pandemic. Still, other students are not used to waiting their turn, raising their hand, or other simple behaviors that they learn at school. For our older students, we’re seeing crippling cases of anxiety. There has been a significant loss of learning for many students, yet they are expected to move forward as if they have…

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5 Signs Your Kid’s School Isn’t A Good Fit: Pandemic Edition

5 Signs Your Kid’s School Isn’t A Good Fit: Pandemic Edition

January 27, 2022

*This is an updated version of 5 Signs Your Kid’s School Isn’t A Good Fit, originally published in August 2018. As we continue to navigate education in the wake of a pandemic, many parents are assessing whether their child is thriving in their current school setting. For some families, the mix of asynchronous, hybrid, or full in-person learning has illuminated issues that were hidden prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic, parents were closer to their child’s day-to-day education, sharing Wi-Fi signals and perhaps a workspace.  As you assess whether your child’s current school is a good fit, ask yourself these questions: Have I observed my child being held back, finishing their work ahead of their peers, or being bored? Have I observed my child struggling and not having enough time to understand a topic during their normal school day? Did my child thrive when they were engaging in virtual…

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What Do We Want Our Children to Get Out of School?

What Do We Want Our Children to Get Out of School?

December 2, 2021

What do parents want their children to learn in school?  To learn specific academic content?  To be an independent learner?  To be compliant (e.g., follow directions and rules)?  To successfully navigate peer and adult relationships (e.g., social skills)?  To cultivate a range of study skills, which work for them?  In an article What Do Parents Want from School? (Edutopia), they polled parents and found that a common theme was that parents want their kids to be prepared for life after high school.  When I interview parents, I ask them what they are looking for in a school. Parents typically say, “I want the teachers to really get my kid and understand how they learn best.” They are usually looking for small classes and individualized instruction. Many speak about how their child used to love school and now they feel like their child’s interest is fading. They want to see that spark…

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TSS Teacher Credentialing and Skills

TSS Teacher Credentialing and Skills

November 15, 2021

The Sycamore School (TSS) has a unique approach to learning. We utilize a mastery-based approach to meet students where they are, address any gaps in skills, and move them forward at their own pace. Learning is engaging, purposeful, and individualized. Instead of traditional grades, we offer narrative feedback and authentic assessments to tell students where they are on the path to mastery. Given our specialized approach, it’s not surprising that our teacher requirements are somewhat different than those of a traditional school.  While many of our teachers are certified, teacher certification is not our top priority. We welcome staff who are uniquely qualified to work with our students and our curriculum. They need to be creative, compassionate, and adept at creating and integrating curriculum. They need to be accomplished at… Relationship Building: It is essential that our staff build positive relationships with students. Many of our students come to us…

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The Sycamore School's high school psych experience class

High School Psych Experience

September 29, 2021

At The Sycamore School, each cohort has a different experience class. This transdisciplinary class weaves together language arts, science, history, and math under a common theme. This year, our high school cohort’s experience theme is Psychology. They will read fiction and nonfiction books, participate in book talks, conduct psychology experiments, and learn about historical events, all that weave in psychology. Unit themes include lifespan development, learning, memory, cognition, motivation, social interactions, ethics of experimentations, psychological disorders and treatment, as well as research methods, measurement, and statistics.  Since I’m a clinical psychologist, I launched the psych experience class and facilitated their first unit, which focused on personal learning and intelligence. We discussed different theories of intelligence, had the students take the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, and discussed different learning preferences. Students developed their own learning profiles, which included their strengths, personality traits, and some learning strategies.  Going forward, students will study research…

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Return to In-Person Learning: How You Can Help Your Child

September 20, 2021

This fall, parents around the country took a deep breath and cautiously, worriedly, and maybe even gleefully sent their children back to school for a return to in-person learning. As our students return to school, parents may still be filled with anxiety asking themselves questions, such as:  Will my child be safe at school?  Will my child like being back at school?  Do they remember how to be a student?  Will they remember how to interact with others?  Will their anxiety lesson once they get used to in-person learning again?  Will my anxiety ever decrease? So, what can we do? How can we support our children and reassure ourselves? Tips to Help Manage the Return to In-Person Learning Most of us are trying to navigate our own anxiety as we try to smile bravely and encourage our children to return to school and trust that it will all go well. …

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High School student at The Sycamore School, also known as TSS, a private high school in Northern Virginia.

Why Your Student Needs a Progressive No Grades High School

August 13, 2021

What if a high school has no grades? No Advanced Placement (AP) classes. No International Baccalaureate (IB) program. To most parents in Northern Virginia, this is profoundly unsettling information. They ask, “How will my child get into college?”. The current model is not working for many students, but parents are afraid of the unknown. What they don’t know is that a progressive high school like The Sycamore School (TSS) may be precisely what they need to get into college. The college admissions process has changed dramatically since most parents were in high school. More students than ever are applying to college and acceptance rates have dropped considerably. In 1970, 152,000 students were enrolled in college, by 2000, that number had increased to 382,000 students who were enrolled in college in Virginia. [EducationData.org; July 2021] This is a particular challenge in Northern Virginia, where nine out of the top ten top…

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TSS students in class

TSS Earns Cognia Accreditation

July 23, 2021

“Is your school accredited?” Since opening The Sycamore School, that has been one of the most common questions. Answering that seemingly simple question was not easy and required some explanation. Schools can only apply for accreditation after they have been open for at least three years; some accreditation organizations require five years. As soon as we could, we started the accreditation process. We had a successful pre-accreditation visit in August of 2019 and had our accreditation visit scheduled for spring of 2020 when COVID hit. Our visit was re-scheduled for the fall of 2020 and then pushed back to April of 2021. It has been a long two years of hurry up and wait, but I can now proudly say, “Yes, The Sycamore School is fully accredited!” What does Accreditation Mean? Accreditation agencies ensure that educational institutions are providing quality education to students and a positive experience for their families.…

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Summer Break Update at The Sycamore School - featured image

Summer Break Update

July 15, 2021

Summer: a time for barbecues, swimming pools, and some much-needed R&R. The weather outside may be slowing everyone down, but here at The Sycamore School (TSS), we’ve hit the ground running. The staff has been hard at work to get set up for the 2021-2022 school year, planning experiences and electives, re-organizing the school, and taking on those projects we didn’t have time for during the school year. Students can expect to see re-organized cabinets, spotless classrooms, and refreshed teachers come August.  Teachers have been working with their cohort partners and in content teams to create the trans-disciplinary curriculum that TSS is known for. Starting with the essential question and the final project, teachers reverse engineer an experience that’s designed to be as entertaining as it is instructive. We don’t want to spoil anything just yet, but this year’s showcases are looking to be a lively and entertaining return to…

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