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Director of 21st Century Schools tours Inner Harbour

March 25, 2011

Pictured above is one of several bridges built by the students on the Inner Harbour Campus.

21st Century Schools is a professional staff development and curriculum design company. Its goal is to assist educators in creating schools and classrooms that are truly 21st century. Anne Shaw, the company’s founder and director, toured Youth Villages’ Inner Harbour Campus in Douglasville, Ga., last fall and wrote the following post about her visit.

It was a perfect fall day. I stood on the narrow paved road that threaded its way around the campus.

It created a tunnel through the thousands of trees covering the property. The ground was carpeted in a thick layer of leaves, and the treetops were ablaze with intense reds, yellows and oranges. When the sun shone on them they almost looked as though they were on fire. The silence was broken only by the quiet conversations of an occasional small group of students and teachers traveling from one building to another. During my three days there, you could often hear AmeriCorps volunteers training in the West African Drumming class. Just behind me was the magnificent yurt where the drumming classes are held. Nearby were the students’ vegetable garden and the pens for the residential dogs.

I was privileged to spend three days at Youth Villages’ Inner Harbour Campus. It is one of Georgia’s largest psychiatric residential treatment programs for seriously emotionally disturbed children and youth. It is situated on 1,200 acres covered with trees; there are two small lakes where students learn canoeing and conduct environmental water studies. The students also enjoy equine therapy and work with the residential therapy dogs. And they enjoy hiking, camping and going “caving.” They also have a wonderful sports field, running track, playgrounds and hiking trails.

“The most incredible on-site visit of my career.” — Anne Shaw, founder and director of 21st Century Schools

I spent time visiting classrooms, talking with teachers and students. Several students were eager to show me their PowerPoint presentations from an interdisciplinary project on a famous artist they would soon be presenting to classes at the University of Georgia.

The stick sculptures (above) and rock-balancing displays (below) are examples of art created by students as part of the Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning Program utilized at Inner Harbour.

Their presentations also included identification of the state of Georgia content standards – as does every student project.

So many features of this school were incredible. On the first day, I participated in a yoga class. Later I joined 20 new AmeriCorps volunteers in their West African Drumming training – and I learned how to play! One of the teachers took me to see the labyrinth that the students built; it was next to a beautiful stream which had a student-built bridge across it. The school utilizes the Leonard Bernstein Artful Learning Program — evidence of their studies in art was everywhere, from life-size wooden sculptures of horses to rock-balancing sculptures.

The students are here because they are behaviorally and emotionally challenged. While I saw great things happening in the classrooms and around the campus, there were also periodic incidents. The counselors and teachers handled these situations calmly and professionally, always demonstrating great care and respect. The culture at Inner Harbour is incredible – very positive, caring, high energy and with high levels of trust and creativity. The teachers credit their principal, Dr. Penny Honeycutt; and Penny credits the teachers.

The faculty and staff were not only very caring and passionate about their work; they also were some of the very best teachers I had ever met. Most of the teachers have master’s degrees; they have the highest levels of certification in several areas, in special education, in their respective discipline or specialization, and every teacher is certified as a Highly Qualified Teacher.

The curriculum is integrated, project-based and focused on authentic problems. They utilize an experiential model that integrates service-learning, artful expression, environmental awareness and opportunities for personal growth. The West African Drumming is one of the most popular classes, and the students perform publicly in and around Atlanta. They have performed for former President Jimmy Carter, as well as at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and they have been invited to perform at the Summer Olympics in London in 2012.

Other programs include animal-assisted therapy, in which students work with therapy dogs or participate in the equine therapy program, and ropes courses.

During the professional development workshop, the faculty and staff were energetic, intelligent and creative. They gave their all in every activity and were extremely enthusiastic about everything presented to them. This faculty would be any principal’s dream!

It is easy to see why the Harvard Business Review reported Youth Villages’ “programs have a success rate three times greater than those of state-run programs, achieved at one-third of the cost. It delivers this nine-fold advantage consistently across the seven states in which it operates.”

Last, but certainly not least, the people at Inner Harbour treated me to several days of the most gracious hospitality. I didn’t stay with any one person as I was touring the school, talking with students and teachers – but there was always someone to ensure I had every little thing I needed.

Inner Harbour is an extraordinary school.

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