By Chea Waters Evans
The phrase “21st century education” might bring to mind images of kids sitting alone hunched over their computers, but that couldn’t be farther from reality. It turns out that this concept means bright, colorful classrooms, beanbag chairs, active kids, lots of project-based learning…and of course, technology. Local educator and mother of three Sage Bagnato is opening the Vermont Day School for the coming academic year. It promises to be an exciting educational option for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, with the expectation to add older grades in future. The school’s focus will be: critical thinking; creative, hands-on instruction; collaborative learning; and a strong emphasis on academics.
With an engaging Innovation Lab and a teacher and classroom dedicated solely to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum, the school’s mission, Bagnato says, is to “foster skills, knowledge, personal attributes, and work habits that enable children to thrive effectively, meaningfully and joyously in the world of today and tomorrow.” The classes will be divided into K/1, 2/3, and 4/5, each with its own classroom teacher, as well as an additional STEM teacher for the whole school. Other specialists will teach art, music, Spanish, and PE. Bagnato says that each student in the school will have his or her own personalized “individual learning goals…so that each child is continuously learning, challenged, and engaged.”
“Digital literacy,” as Bagnato calls it, is an important aspect of the curriculum at Vermont Day School and the concept of 21st century learning. “It helps to prepare kids for what’s important for success in today’s world.” This isn’t as simple, though, as handing every student an iPad, she adds. “The curriculum will incorporate technology in ways that are age-appropriate and targeted. How does this tool help supplement learning, or help them to express their knowledge or skills in a different way, in a multi-media format?” This could mean using graphing software in math class or a 3D printer in art or science. These tools will help kids “express what they’ve learned in different formats. It’s part of today’s world—what motivates them, what’s engaging to them.”
Bagnato has dreamed of opening a school for years, and is particularly well-qualified, with over 20 years of experience in education as an elementary classroom teacher, evaluator in Boston and the Stern Center in Williston, and a Learning Specialist (currently) at Vermont Commons School. Her knowledge and experience have allowed her to create a school that reflects her principles in everything from the curriculum to the design of the classroom and the furniture inside it. The school space is a bright, open building with plenty of room to play outdoors. It’s located in the old Heartworks preschool building on Route 7 in Shelburne.
Bagnato is currently working with a designer to update the interior and create a place for the children that is modern, comfortable, and has plenty of room for both reading quietly and noisily working on group projects. While the staff list isn’t yet complete, Bagnato is excited about the applicants, and will have her final teaching staff in place this spring. “We recognize that the teachers are a big part of a family’s decision to enroll in a school,” she said. Once renovations are complete, school tours will be available.
While there are several other independent elementary schools in the area, Bagnato feels that the Vermont Day School will fill a space that is currently open. “We offer a strong foundation in core academics,” she said, while “at the same time…a project based approach to learning that helps students develop their critical thinking, creativity, collaborative learning, [and] ability to innovate, which are all competencies that researchers, professionals, and educators from a variety of areas feel are important for individuals in today’s society.”
From the second students walk into their first kindergarten class, Bagnato has their future success in mind; the importance of preparing for an academic life as a student as well as an employed adult is at the forefront of the Vermont Day School education. “It’s not about just what you know, it’s about how you can apply what you know: how you look at information critically, think about new solutions, and ask good questions.”