What was billed as an "Inside Informal" night last month gave Upper Arlington parents a chance to learn about the style of teaching called Informal Progressive that is offered at Wickliffe Progressive and Barrington Elementary schools.
The informational presentation for parents of children in kindergarten through fifth grade was held Feb. 26 at Upper Arlington Library.
According to Barrington teacher Katie Benton, Upper Arlington schools have offered two types of educational delivery systems for the past 40 years -- Informal and Contemporary.
Families living south of Lane Avenue have a choice between each program at Barrington, while families living north of Lane Avenue have a choice between their neighborhood schools -- Tremont, Windermere or Greensview -- or Wickliffe Progressive.
"The purpose of the evening was to share information about the history of progressive education and to illustrate the Informal Program at Barrington and Wickliffe," Benton said. "The Informal Program was started in 1972 in Upper Arlington. It was founded by educators, parents and Ohio State University professors."
The information night included a "Gallery Hop" of student projects, historical highlights of the program, a slideshow presentation and a forum of parents, teachers and administrators, including Barrington Principal Jason Fine, Assistant Principal Angie Ullum and Wickliffe Progressive Principal Chris Collaros.
Wickliffe offers only the Informal Progressive program, Benton said. Barrington offers both the Informal Progressive model and the regular contemporary program that is available in the district's other elementary schools, she said.
The roots of the program date back to the early 19th century and the work of educational philosophers and theorists such as Froebel, Montessori, Dewey, Piaget and Vygotsky.
Collaros said the Informal Progressive model is guided by 10 "foundational principles" that "serve as the lens through which we view all of our work with children, families and one another."
He said administrators are currently taking a look at those principles to make sure they reflect "what we value and believe as public education changes over time."
Benton said the most important ideals of the principles stress that "the child, not the lesson, is the center of the teacher's attention and that each student has strengths that should be cultivated and grown."
She said the program fosters democratic communities within classrooms to prepare children to become active members of society; integrates curriculum so subjects are taught together as part of thematic units that foster real-world inquiry; values reflection and self-evaluation for teachers and students; and stresses collaboration with parents as co-educators in meeting children's needs.
Collaros said the configuration of Informal Progressive classrooms can look quite different from those used in conventional elementary programs.
"To the greatest degree possible, classrooms are either in a multiage configuration where two or more grades are represented in the same classroom or in a looping configuration where the classroom is comprised of a single grade level and the teacher and children 'loop' to the next grade level together," he said. "We believe the community and relationships engendered in such configurations can have a powerful impact on learning."
Other aspects of the Informal Progressive program are Town Meetings at Wickliffe and Chatauquas at Barrington, where students share their learning with the larger community, Collaros said.
"Children make decisions about what learning they want to share and how they want to share it," he said. "So at various times throughout the school year, roughly once or twice a month, we gather as a community to celebrate learning."
Benton said the multiage and looping classrooms allow children to spend at least two consecutive years with the same teacher.
She said that means teachers develop a better understanding of children's strengths and needs and students develop a sense of community with their classmates and become a "family of learners."