Polaris Charter Academy - A Wonderful Experience

IMG_8560 copy Our staff recently returned from a two day site visit to an exemplary Expeditionary Learning school in Chicago. Polaris Charter Academy is a K-8 school that started out small – like D.A.A. It has grown to a school of more than 400 students who strive to live the five Points of Polaris.  These points are similar to our Habits of Character.

While at Polaris, we had the chance to visit classrooms, as well as talk to a teacher panel, an administrative panel, a parent panel, and two student panels.  We saw and experienced joy-filled learning, self-motivated students, and caring staff and parents. This was truly a magical experience!

In classroom visits, we were greeted by students and led to their learning stations to discuss what they were learning.  The teacher panel was a group of dedicated teachers – dedicated to their students, dedicated to the school, and dedicated to helping each other be the best.   The administrators gave us information on how to continue to grow the culture we have started.  The parents shared the importance of teacher communication and we are committed to make this a priority.  The student panels made our hearts melt.  One panel was 7th and 8th graders – some of whom have been at Polaris since kindergarten and some that have been there for a couple years.  They were articulate and proud to be a part of such a caring community of learners.  They shared their struggles and decisions to make the right choices.  The second panel was of high school freshmen who graduated last year.  They shared how Polaris had prepared them for high school and that, even though it was very different, they knew what they had to do to be successful.

As a staff, we learned that our “crew time” is critically important to the culture we are establishing. Crew time happens in the first part of the morning and the last part of the day.  We learned the importance of rituals and the importance of keeping joy in the learning process.  When our crews feel connected, we provide a safe learning environment.  We also agreed that this is the kind of school we are striving to become and we can all envision this happening. 

The final moments of participating in the school’s Friday afternoon crew was a time I will never forget.  Seeing the school come together in joyful competition – a “cheer-off” between 7th and 8th grade classes, students becoming “light leaders” (nominated and voted on by staff as leaders in the school), full attendance classes flying their flags, and parents coming to join in this community celebration.  It was a celebration like no other!  We returned to our school with the excitement that we can do this too!  Yes we can! DAA – Achieve!  DAA – Hopes and Dreams!