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Barton Open School is supported by the community that surrounds the school

My three children began attending Barton in 1996 and the last one will graduate in two more years.  Barton is a wonderful school that thrives because of the community that it is located in.  Since before my time, Barton has cultivated relationships with the neighborhood around the school. 

For me, there are three key components of open education including the age range of learners and those teaching, the ability to adapt curriculum to the needs of the children and events in the world, and the conscious attempt to build a learning community.

At Barton, students are in classrooms with several grades together. This means that the older students help the younger.  Since there is a range of ages, there is also a range of abilities. Teachers use these differences in designing a more individualized teaching plan.  In addition, uppers are assigned younger students to be their study buddy.  My children know students of all ages because they have been a study buddy to a younger student or they had an older study buddy.  Barton also has options classes that are taught by other students and parents.  My children have been in options classes and had a great time both teaching and learning a wide variety of information. Kids teaching kids is a great way to learn.  They have new ideas, new examples and can explain in ways that a teacher just can not explain.

Second, open education allows teachers to adapt the curriculum to their strengths, to student needs and to events in the world.  One teacher had a semi-circle of bleachers around the board and did a lot of direct education about math, last year the primary teachers did a wonderful fabric drawing of a full sized elephant that graced the hallway so we could all learn about size, while some year they were collecting a million pennies to see what a million looked like and yet another teacher has a room full of science projects.  This year after taking most of the older students to see the play, 1957, about integration in the South, the students (I am sure with guidance from the faculty) organized a march through the school about global warming.  What an interesting connection to feel the relationship between the civil right era and what is happening in the real world today.  One teacher, I think this was in the primary grades, had 3 different spelling lists based on ability.  For me, the epitome of this educational philosophy was the last evening parent student assembly.  Some of the agenda included the entire commons of several hundred howling like wolves to learn about their social habits, an accurate and precise power point about the boiler so we could learn more about energy conservation, break dancing and individual first and second graders having a moment at the mike reading the poems they had written about the moon and stars.  Every child participated.  Some English language learners or others with special needs had a friend with them, but all children were there at the mike speaking.

Finally, Barton makes a conscious attempt to build a learning community through the responsive classroom. I don't know what that all means, but I have seen the morning class meeting in action.  I have tried the same concept in my classroom in post secondary education and it helps incredibly to create a space where all can learn.  The Barton staff tee shirts at one point ended ...and excellent relationships.  I don't know any other school that is so clear about the need to build relationships.  My children get the emphasis.  The Somali kids are their friends.  Half the boys’ basketball team is Somali.  When I drive one of the basketball players home, I hear how he is learning English, all the time and every where, not just one hour a day.  At Barton we all pitch in.  A fleet of old red wagons shows up for the plant sale.  Parents like me give an extra couple of bucks for each field trip so another kid can go.  I give Christmas presents that are hand made by students in kindergarten. 

I have my children at Barton because I want them to be in a diverse school that works.  I want Minneapolis to educate all children and to find ways to close the achievement gap.  Barton has become increasingly diverse and has made suggestions about increasing the diversity further.  The community of parents and teachers around Barton are very smart and alert.  Make it clear what needs to be done and we will work to do it.  It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a community to support a school.  Barton parents and teachers have worked to create a community that supports all of the students at Barton.  One of the gifts of Barton has been the stability of the teachers and administrative staff.  This stability has allowed Barton to reach deep into the community of parents, neighbors and non-profits for support.  Physically moving the school will break the bonds with all of the support that has been holding the school up over all of these years.  You can move the administrative and teaching staff to a new location, but you will not reproduce the magic that is Barton.  Location will make a difference for all the neighbors who support the plant sale, all the kids who ride to Lake Nokomis on their bikes for a day long field trip and the battle of the Red Coats and the early American revolutionaries that takes place in the Rose garden in the early spring to illustrate the fundamentals of the American Revolution. Use the experience of Barton as a successful magnet in its present location to find the lessons that can be extended to other teaching and learning environments.