GVK: What is the Cooperative School?
Steven: The Cooperative School is a non-sectarian, progressive, independent private primary school in Appleton. The Coop was founded on the principle that two things are necessary for a school to be great: excellent teachers and small classes. At the Coop, mixed-age classes are capped at twelve students, so that our teachers have not only the skills, but also the time to help students reach their full potential, and so that students can learn, and teachers teach, at their very best.
At the Coop, core subjects – math and science, reading and writing, and social studies – are emphasized, in addition to regular instruction in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.
GVK: What makes the Coop different from traditional public schools?
Steven: In addition to small class sizes, and instruction in two foreign languages, the Coop is committed to individualized instruction and mixed-age groups.
GVK: Can you explain “individualized instruction” and “Mixed-age groups?”
Steven: I think I can. Consider this: no two children develop at the same rate. Just as no two children learn best in the same way. “Individualized” instruction is instruction that is developmentally sensitive, instruction by which each child is challenged to reach his or her academic potential at a pace, and in a style, appropriate for that child.
At the Coop, we believe that social interaction is of critical importance in the development of a child’s cognitive abilities. We believe, also, that mixed-age classes provide the child with a richer and more complex social environment that contributes both to greater social facility and greater cognitive competence. [Note: a mixed-age class is not a combination class where children of two grade levels are placed in one class but treated as two distinct subgroups.] At the Coop, almost all classroom interaction and collaboration happens across conventional “grade” level.
Further, social rejection in childhood decreases a child’s opportunities to achieve social competence. Unpopular children are significantly more likely to report episodes of loneliness than are popular children. Research suggests that children experience greater social isolation in same-age than in mixed-age classrooms. Classes that are highly uni-dimensional are more likely to have social “stars,” but also more rejected and/or neglected children.
GVK: What is your favorite thing about the Coop?
Steven: Because the Coop feels so much like an extension of the family, it seems the kids come in the morning eager and enthusiastic and, in the afternoon, are reluctant to leave. I also like the way the kids are treated with affection and respect.
GVK: Why is the Coop a good fit for your family?
Steven: We value education above all things, and we can think of no better place to send our child. What is the application process? Interested parents can read about the Coop at our website – cooperativeschool.org – and follow the school on our Facebook page. They can call the school and set up an appointment for a conversation with the Director, who will answer any and all questions or concerns they might have about the Coop, which conversation can be followed by a visit to the school.
GVK: Is there a waiting list?
Steven: Not at the moment.
Steven Polansky helped found a private primary school in Minnesota, Prairie Creek Community School, in 1983. He oversaw the school for fourteen years while teaching at St. Olaf College. Prairie Creek was featured twice in the Washington Post, and was referenced as “the finest primary school in the nation.” He currently serves as the Director at The Cooperative School in Appleton.
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