SRQ Hosts Inaugural RocketKids Modern Education Symposium

Education

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY WEDNESDAY PHILANTHROPY EDITION WEDNESDAY JAN 31, 2018

Educators and community advocates convened at SRQ Studios last night for the inaugural RocketKids Modern Education Symposium: What Are My Kids Learning At School? Featuring Dan Ceaser, head of school at Hershorin Schiff Community Day School; Dawn Graber, director of curriculum at Sarasota Christian School; Tim Seldin, head of school at Newgate Montessori School; and Dan Vande Pol, superintendent/head of school at Bradenton Christian School, each gave a brief presentation regarding respective values and approaches to education before fielding questions from the moderator and the audience.

With a panel full of independent educators, the discussion naturally gravitated toward the differences between private and faith-based educational institutions versus the public education system. Taking the stage first, Vande Pol reflected on his own experience growing up with a Christian education as opposed to a public education, and its strengths not only on an academic level, but in inspiring confidence and competence on a personal level. It’s something he tries to replicate at Bradenton Christian, stressing the importance of the Christian faith in every aspect of learning. “Our goal is to make every student feel plugged in,” he says, “and that they belong.” Following Vande Pol, Ceaser of Hershorin Schiff struck a bit of different chord, emphasizing a mission of diversity in perspectives and faiths as it prepares children to become leaders in a diverse and largely unknown future. “We have a modest ambition of our students to do nothing less than change the world,” says Ceaser, stressing the importance of bringing children of different backgrounds and beliefs into collaboration. “That’s how we can put our kids on the course for meaningful change.”

For Seldin, however, the aspects linking each of the independent educational institutions represented far outweighed any differences, and that attitude alone—the one that questions an established educational system to find something better—was worth celebrating, even if they arrived at different answers. “Education is a journey, not a race,” he says, and the Montessori method practiced at Newgate Montessori places the student at the center of that journey. “We do not just look for the best and the brightest,” he says. “We look for each child as a universe of one.” Lastly, Graber took the microphone to talk about the faith-based education at Sarasota Christian School that can “ignite minds and infuse faith” in all of its students. “Our teachers are our #1 asset,” she says, and draw their strength from their faith, becoming teachers, coaches and more for their students. And while rigorous memorization of facts and figures may help the students pass standardized tests, she says, it’s the ability to create more meaningful connections through faith-based understanding that sets them apart from other educational institutions.

As the Q&A began, speakers fielded questions on topics from Common Core (“Children don’t learn that way; we’re not running factories,” says Seldin) and testing (“There’s a myriad of ways kids can show what they know,” says Ceaser) to preparing students for the workforce, STEAM vs STEM and the role of homework.

Pictured: Newgate Montessori Head of School Tim Seldin addresses the crowd at the RocketKids Modern Education Symposium. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

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