I said I was only going to cover for-profit companies that do social good, but visiting the IDEAL and DREAM Schools of Advanced Learning in Royal Palm Beach, FL touched me so much that I had to write about them. I went there with Sharon Quercioli (see: Sprouting! Good Business Practices) and was given a tour by one of the owners, the father of one of my elementary school classmates and my old ice hockey coach, Dr. Kris Soderman. Please watch this video until the 2:50 mark as it really encapsulates some of the magic at the schools. We will watch the rest of it later.
The founders, Dr. Kris and Mrs. Wendy Soderman, founded the school in 1993 because most of the schools in the area weren’t too good back then. They felt a duty to the community to establish a school that could handle both special needs and regular students. They felt this way because of their own personal story, chronicled here in the A&E Documentary:
As you saw, the Sodermans had a personal reason to succeed and they threw all their resources–personal, financial, mental, and emotional–at transforming our community. They started out by renting one little bay. It had a fenced in playground in the back, and the rent was cheap enough to make having the school possible. They had a few initial clients, and they all tested so well that the Department of Education thought Mrs. Soderman was cheating the system! Turned out that she wasn’t. Her teaching methods, all of which were based on cutting-edge neuroscience research, were just that good and the parents wanted more. They begged her to start a kindergarten, so she did, and then that grew into the current manifestation: IDEAL Elementary School and DREAM Middle School. They did this all on their own by taking out a second mortgage. There were few contributions, so all the growth was organic and stemmed from parents’ recognizing how good the curriculum is. If you wish to support cutting-edge childhood education, please contact them.
A Taste of a Dream:
Imagine a school where the underlying philosophy is that each student is unique, meaningful, and joyful; where the teachers adapt to each student’s learning style instead of demanding that every kid fit a prescriptive mold of behavior; and where lesson plans foster the growth of multiple types of intelligence’s, notably the emotional and intellectual quotients. In fact, Dr. and Mrs. Soderman take 10-11 teachers to neuroscience education conferences every year, and they pass those lessons on to the students.
At this school they recognize that every person interacts with the world in his or her own special way. They identify each student’s strengths and weaknesses according to Harvard Professor Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and then encourage the individual to become a well-rounded person.
This means that the wonderful staff at both the IDEAL and DREAM schools don’t demand that the students be put on pharmaceuticals like Adderal, instead they develop the student’s emotional quotient (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ), and teach according to each student’s personal learning style as defined by the Multiple Intelligence Theory:
In fact, there are NO academics for the first 20 minutes of school. The first priority and focus of every day is emotional intelligence. Every IDEAL student participates in an intimate gathering where the conversation is about the students’ feelings and interests. Emotional Intelligence is a wide range of skills that children of all ages can develop and improve. These skills are critical for emotional well-being and success. Emotional and virtuous development are an integral part of the IDEAL curriculum.
Their daily and weekly discussions encompass the five domains of “social and emotional” learning:
- Knowing one’s emotions
- Identifying and expressing emotions
- Motivating oneself
- Recognizing and accepting emotions in others
- Maintaining productive relationships
Then the day starts. They have a preschool, elementary school, and middle school. There are about 75 students in the preschool, and 180 students in grades K-8, with an average class size of 20. For all of these students, there are 40 teachers, meaning there is one teacher for about every 6-7 students.
Talk about personal attention!
They also teach the students all about the brain. Hearing Kindergarteners say something like, “My amygdala is angry at your amygdala and needs some time to rest” really took me aback!
They also focus on mindfulness and meditation. Mrs. Soderman is actually in the middle of completing a 500+ hour meditation practicum, and she teaches her students how to use this tool to their advantage. Instead of getting angry, she has them take 10 deep breaths and use meditative de-stressing techniques. Clearly, she is equipping them with the skills to become innovative, creative, well-rounded, problem-solving leaders.
In addition, they encourage students to develop an internal sense of self-worth. For instance, when a student does well, they instruct him or her to “Go look in the mirror. I want you to be proud of yourself.” They feel this teaches self-regulation, self-control, and self-pride. I gave it a try to see if it works, and you better believe it does!!!
As you heard in the video, the school’s culture emphasizes positive words. For instance, instead of saying “Don’t run!” they say “Walking Feet.” Instead of calling a test a test, they call it a “celebration of learning.” They truly train students to look at life for the long term, not for the quick reward.
One of the most important spiritual lessons they teach their students is resilience. Resilience is one of the most important topics in psychology today, and is being taught to MBAs and in corporate settings through high-paid consultants, yet here these children are learning it starting in preschool! Amazing!!
They also teach interpersonal skills. The moment we walked into a classroom, these YOUNG PEOPLE would stop what they were doing, walk up to me, look me in the eye, shake my hand, and introduce themselves. I got goosebumps every time they did it, because most adults don’t act with such respect.
The school is so proud of their students, they even made this t-shirt to commemorate the lesson. 10 feet away from the other person you smile, 5 feet away you greet them, and when you are one foot away you look them in the eye, shake their hand, and introduce yourself:
They just come right up to you, and it is incredibly touching.
Now that you have seen what makes this school so special, please watch this video from the 2:50 mark to see it in action:
Thank you for coming on this journey with me. There are just a few more experiences to relate.
Dr. Soderman, Sharon and I walked into a second grade classroom and what did we see?
A classroom full of students, broken down into groups, working on collaboration, negotiation, and research. Their project was to do a biographical report on some of the most important people in history, and to follow these guidelines:
- Discuss as team – (sidebar: how many of your co-workers can do this appropriately?)
- Agree – (same question!)
- Outline/sketch response
- Discuss outline/sketch and agree as team
- Get teacher’s approval
- Create final deliverable
I truly wish that people I’ve worked with in the past had their skills, demeanor, and earnestness!
Every day the 4th grade students gain real-world public speaking and media skills when they create their “Early Bird News”. They really excel at it and the magnitude of how great they are really knocks me off my feet.
The last thing I’d like to talk about is how well they integrate education across the academic disciplines. Even the structure of their building symbolizes this on a very meta-level, as they have a slide which connects the science room on the second floor to the English classroom on the first floor. Don’t you wish you could take the slide instead of the stairs? We did:
Another example of how they integrate education across grades and subjects is that right now both the fifth graders and the kindergartners are studying dinosaurs. They do this at the same time and in different subjects. Their writing, arts, and science teachers collaborate and integrate the dinosaur theme into all of their respective classes,and they will take both grades on a field trip to the Science Museum at the same time. When they get there, the fifth graders will pair up with a kindergartner and explore the space together. In this way they learn how to take care of each other, and to treat their neighbor as themselves.
All in all, the IDEAL and DREAM Schools are magical.
Their every methodology is designed to let kids be kids
It is no wonder that they have 3 year olds who can read fluently, fifth graders who believe in themselves, and eighth graders who truly live these values:
While I couldn’t relate every single aspect of the school to you, please feel free to contact either them or myself for more details. And before you go, check out why their students stay “STUDY ROCKIN’! ”