On Thursday, December 3, Seth Boyden Elementary School hosted the local "premiere" of the film When Learning Comes Naturally. The 28-minute documentary highlighting the use of nature in education and featuring Seth Boyden teachers and students aired on PBS in September.
The documentary produced and directed by Jonathan Diamond in association with the Sarah Lawrence College Child Development Institute, profiles the efforts of four schools in New York, New Jersey and California to introduce children to the natural world and to encourage them to make a lasting connection to the environment.
Seth Boyden is featured early in the documentary and the appearance of familiar faces on the big screen in the school auditorium drew applause and cheers. Teachers Marcie Chanin, Linda Bartholomew and Bernice Popp are featured along with their students from last year's classes.
After the presentation of the documentary, Principal Mark Quiles led a panel discussion with Jonathan Diamond; Sara Wilford, Director, Art of Teaching, Sarah Lawrence College Child Development Institute; and William Crane, Professor, Department of Psychology, City College of New York. Seth Boyden PTA President Rhonda Wilson-Duncan moderated.
One parent wanted to know if Federal stimulus funding was available to such non-traditional teaching programs as those highlighted in the documentary.
Dr. Crane responded that the focus of Federal funding has been test scoring and not on such non-traditional educational programming. He noted that he was happy to see that Seth Boyden was not solely focused on test scores but also "engaged in teaching profound thinking."
Another parent voiced support of the kind of education highlighted in the film, but was curious to know such educational programs "showed up in test scores."
Crane responded that, although he "frankly didn't care," a study by Lieberman and Hoody, titled "Closing the Achievement Gap," found that achievement levels do rise when there are programs such as those featured in the documentary that meld learning and nature.
Said the parent, "That's a beautiful answer."
Quiles also addressed the question of test scores. "We've seen the journey of our own test scores. We were a school in need of improvement." But, Quiles noted, "It was important to us that it was not only a run after improving test scores but a run after improving learning and keeping the joy of learning burning."
"Life is a search for meaning and we have to provide an environment for children to make meaning of the world around them," said Quiles.
Quiles did note that Seth Boyden's test scores had improved and the school was no longer categorized as "in need of improvement."