Finding an educational institution that prioritizes passion, creativity, and cross-discipline education can be a challenge. Media-Providence Friends School, founded in 1876 on the principles of Quaker learning, makes a daily effort to push the classroom beyond four walls and the 21st century for students pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, setting them up for a bright future.
Throughout the school year, MPFS makes every effort to ensure students are engaged in unique ways not often found in other schools. On a regular basis, students have access to Makerspace, a designated classroom where students can express themselves, be it in an afterschool program or an elective. “It’s designed for kids to flex their creative and problem solving muscles using a variety of tools and materials,” says MPFS Head of School, Earl Sissell.
Whether that’s using hand tools or sewing machines to craft something, or engaging in high tech software like CAD, conductive paint and tape, or 3D printers, students have endless opportunities to express themselves and learn new skills. “Kids can sometimes get stuck in a pretty structured world. Makerspace is providing opportunities to just be creative, to try something new. Sometimes students will go into Makerspace with just an idea, look around at the materials and go to work creating whatever idea they have conceptualized,” adds Sissell.
Those tools are then relied on later in the year when the school celebrates STEAM Week. Held in spring, students in grades five through eight have the opportunity to focus on interdisciplinary learning with a specific theme. “We focus on integrating science, technology, engineering, the arts and math,” says Sissell, noting that it’s “an immersive learning experience.” During that week, students leave their traditional curriculum to focus solely on STEAM, building up to a final project.
Last year’s topic was the science of sound and a small group of students created an interactive painting using tools from Makerspace like conductive tape and paint and a computer board, which Sissell says is one of the most innovative projects he’s seen come out of the lab.
To further that passion and excitement, MPFS also has a Math and Science Day, which all students participate in. “It gives the kids the opportunity to be the experts. Having the opportunity to explain what you’re doing really helps build confidence and reinforces the academic skills and the knowledge they have developed,” says Sissell.
MPFS makes a concerted effort to ensure students are engaged in the subjects by out of the box teaching. By having cross-disciplinary classes, students see how subjects are integrated and apply to the real world, rather than just in the classroom. Teachers meet to discuss curriculum and familiarize themselves with other lesson plans such that an art teacher will incorporate something being taught in a biology class or an English lesson.
In doing so, it encourages excitement for subjects students might not otherwise be engaged in. “It’s really about getting them to think critically and ask questions. Why does a character act the way he or she does? Why did a particular historical event happen? Why do numbers do what they do in order to get the answer that you get?” Sissell says of the methodology.
MPFS students also are fortunate to be able to take their lessons outside of school. “It’s about experiencing things and having that passion. Kids have the opportunity to try new things, to find something they like that they never knew they might,” Sissell says. Whether that’s in Makerspace or going to the nearby Glen Providence Park to witness firsthand about the water cycle, vegetation growth or plant identification. “They get to experience what they are learning is really relevant and useful,” Sissell adds.
No matter what subject, students learn to be creative problem solvers, using what they have at hand to make the most of a situation. All of those tools give students not only a solid educational background, but also strong interpersonal communication skills that will come in handy for the rest of their lives. Alums have gone on to earn PhD’s from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and study environmental science at Emory University, among others. Sissell says of the Emory student, “The work she did in science in lower school and middle school ignited her passion in the environment.”
Regardless of what MPFS students go on to study or pursue in their careers, their early education, with a strong academic foundation and a sense of creativity and wonder, sets them up for a successful future.