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Public education is not one size fits all: Guest Column VC Star

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    Lisa Hildebrand

This article was originally published in the VC Star. To read the writing on the original website, click here.

When you enter Ventura Charter School you are met with a Rainbow path proclaiming, “Be Proud, Be Bold, Be Strong, Be Kind.” With this greeting, all who step on campus are welcomed and embraced for their unique individuality.

The Rainbow path was created by the seventh- and eighth-graders of Ventura Charter School’s LGBTQ+ Club for Better World Day 2022. It represents our LGBTQ+ community, and our Black and Brown students, educators, and community members. Our Kid Captains Leila Martinez (she/her) and Milo Petrushkin (he/him) had the opportunity to present the project at a worldwide virtual Community Circle designed to share Better World Day projects.

We’re proud of our rainbow path, which goes beyond the artwork. Simply put, inclusivity and support are just how we do things every day on our campus. Better World Day, and other projects like it, are part of a project-based approach we use to grow resilient, educated, and socially intelligent human beings through EL Education.

With its roots extending from Open Classroom, Ventura Charter School of Arts and Global Education was approved in 2006 by the Ventura County Office of Education as a tuition-free, public, K-8th grade school. As of 2020, it became the county’s first EL Education Network school. EL Education was created in 1991 from a collaboration between Harvard School of Education and Outward Bound to encourage students to flourish and provide a reimagined definition of success through expeditionary learning. What does that mean? It means that for us, your child’s potential and unique genius are the most important part of learning.

Expeditionary learning is not typically a part of public education, and we are not a typical public school. Our expeditions interweave lessons from different disciplines, and our teachers communicate and collaborate, allowing students to take responsibility and navigate their education in ways that are natural and intuitive. Many public schools are limited in the opportunities they can offer by rigid curriculums that are designed to provide a standardized education in a commonly accessible and ordinary way overlooking the unique strengths, needs, and interests of students in their community.

As a public school, Ventura Charter School does administer standardized testing, performing significantly higher than the state average and historically higher than VUSD. We get our students there through our balanced approach of small classroom sizes and learning expeditions that challenge and empower them to grow together and as individuals. Learning expeditions are long term, in-depth, research studies that culminate in high-level projects and presentations allowing students to make connections, think critically, and work together to solve problems.

Our Kindergarten Habitat project has students participate in multi-phase research, learning about specific habitats, from the flora to the fauna, then continuing their research by studying an animal from their assigned habitat, combining biology, natural sciences, and more. In 2015, as part of their expedition, our kindergarteners worked to make the VCS butterfly garden a certified habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. As part of another expedition, our seventh- and eighth-graders study the United States founding documents to examine whether there truly is equality for all in our nation.

At Ventura Charter School, we follow state standards while adapting with our students to create an environment where all can thrive. We approach every day through our 10 founding principles that include, Diversity and Inclusion, Service and Compassion, and The Having of Wonderful Ideas. Our Equity Statement is our promise to nurture a climate of purposeful inclusion and belonging.

Ventura Charter School does more than empower our students with choices, we empower our parents with the opportunity to give their children an education that fits them, uniquely. Parents of non-binary and LGBTQ+ children should know there are schools where their children are welcome and safe from threats and harassment. Our Latinx neighbors should know that their bilingual sons and daughters can learn in a place where they are celebrated for their ability to speak two languages. And, for parents who saw their children succeed with more individualized attention at home during the pandemic, our homeschooling program allows us to partner with parents to bring our child-centered philosophy home.

Disclaimer: EL Education is proud to host diverse voices and offer a platform for dialogue on topics impacting educators and students. Views of guest bloggers are their own and may differ from the views of EL Education.