What Makes Us “Us”

Library

When each of us tries to describe our school, it can be hard to articulate why The Fulton School is special to us and what distinguishes it from other schools.  We have much in common with other schools in terms of the basic curriculum (teaching kids to read, write and do arithmetic).

We have a lot in common with other independent schools in that we have control over our curriculum, have smaller student-teacher ratios, and have similar events calendars.  But we are doing a lot that few schools are accomplishing.

Some of our most unique characteristics are our home-like environment, our culture of personalized learning, the time and space we give children to be children, the respect we have for our students, and freedom we offer in the classroom.

These characteristics are very purposeful, powerful, and difficult to achieve, and over the next few weeks I’m going to use this space to discuss why and how we cultivate these characteristics at TFS.

Part I:  Home-Like Environment

livingWe believe that school should be a community, not an institution.  We are a network of relationships, not a factory. Here are a few reasons for the importance of a home-like setting.

  • Dr. Montessori began the notion that kids would learn better if they were physically and emotionally comfortable, and actually started all of her schools in houses.  Modern research has supported that notion.
  • child will spend more time at school than at home through the years, so common sense begs the question, “Why NOT make it as cozy as we can?”.
  • Another Montessori notion, supported loosely by science, is that behavior is better and standards are higher when the environment (the building and classrooms and materials) surrounding the child is beautiful and inviting.  This concept was so important to our identity that when we built this building Dr. Fulton instructed the architects that we wanted it to feel more like a home than an institution.  Drywall, crown molding, lots of windows, the flooring, and the fireplace are just some of the examples of these efforts in the final product.  The absence of bells announcing class transitions, the absence of locks on lockers, and availability of the kitchen are examples of our priorities within the building.

Each of these details may seem unrelated to Algebra or reading comprehension, but put them all together and they contribute to that special something that is changing each student’s life and approach to learning in little ways every day.

__________________________________________

We invite you come to visit us, walk around our school, experience our classrooms, get a feel for what we do and how we do it. Want to get to know us online first? Jump over to www.tfssa.org

The Pressure of Perfect Parenting

Shown here: Me with Fulton School founder (my mom) Dr. Barb Fulton
Shown here: Me with Fulton School founder (my mom) Dr. Barb Fulton

Are you feeling pressured to be the perfect parent who offers an amazing childhood for our offspring?

Here’s an interesting take on that pressure, challenging us to step back a bit, to simplify, and ultimately (although she doesn’t word it this way), to let go of our children a little.

My own mom‘s 69th birthday was yesterday and she’s been on my mind a lot lately. My childhood was very similar to the author’s (including a Disney trip that I only vaguely remember).  I would nominate my mother for any Best Mother Ever award, but it was her wisdom (which I received like it or not), and time spent with her (which was usually helping her prepare or clean up dinner, or a late night talk when she was exhausted), her hugs (she hated her chubbiness, but she really gave the best hugs physically possible) which were often accompanied by advice, criticism, and challenges, and even our discussions and arguments (no topic was taboo).

Her refusal to try to make my life magical and her challenges for me to go search for my own discoveries (outside, in the kitchen, in my room, just OUT of her office!) have often given me permission as a mom to do exactly what this author suggests.  But little did either of us know that my mom’s love and struggles and honesty and desire to work on her weaknesses was magic in and of itself.

Founder’s Day: Remembering Dr. Barb

barb kara
Current head of school Kara Fulton Douglass shown here with her mother, Fulton School founder, Dr. Barbara Fulton.

This week at The Fulton School we celebrate Founder’s Day. It’s a chance to reflect beyond our mission to Dr. Barb’s intentions and legacy.

Her two biggest passions in her professional life were probably to provide an education that allowed students to move at their own rates and to teach kids to do the right thing no matter what.

The teachers and curriculum at Fulton are doing a fabulous job with personalized learning, but character is always a tricky thing to teach.  Always Go to the Funeral is an article I stumbled upon a few weeks ago that echoed Dr. Barb’s lectures and pleads.

In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

Dr. Barb was the queen of initiative–doing something because you had the idea to improve things, not because anyone made you.  Push in your chair when you get up, write thank you notes for every gift you get, RSVP to everything you’re invited to, pick up trash on the parking lot at a building that you had nothing to do with, and always go to the funeral.  Enjoy some early spring inspiration as we carry on Dr. Barb’s legacy.

The Fulton Cross

In 1993, Dr. Barbara Fulton, long-time Head of School of the Chesterfield Day School, was asked by the community developers of St. Albans to found a second campus.

It began with just a preschool and small elementary class in 1994. The school expanded every year until the first 12th grade graduation in 2004.

In 2007, the 9th-12th grade program spun off from Chesterfield Day School to become St. Albans High School, and in 2008 the lower school the high school to create one toddler through 12th grade experience.

The community chose to name the new entity after its beloved founder, and The Fulton School at St. Albans was born. In 2005, Dr. Barb passed away after 30 years of service to Chesterfield Day School and the St. Louis educational community.

Dr. Barb was my mother.

This school continues to embody her philosophy of education, blending the Montessori tenets of hands-on, purposeful simplicity, with her strong emphasis on joy, character, and transparency.  And thanks to her, we have become a small, diverse community of people, who love to learn, who ask questions, and who are figuring out how to live their lives intentionally.

In January 2006, the Chesterfield Day School Board of Directors commissioned local artist and graphic designer Alex Paradowski to create two contemporary art pieces to honor Dr. Barb – one for each of the school’s campuses in Chesterfield and St. Albans.

The Fulton Cross

The art pieces were unveiled on Valentine’s Day 2006, her favorite holiday. The following is Mr. Paradowski’s explanation of the work:

Many art forms could be considered for such a memorial, but I believe the more contemporary, more on-the-edge choice may be more in keeping with the non-traditional practices of Chesterfield Day School and the very idea of looking at things differently.

The center column is a metaphor for Dr. Barb. It stands tall, a solid wall of strength. The crown molding at the top symbolizes Barb’s position as Head of School. It also resembles a graduation cap, again suggesting education. The column’s base is open, revealing its core structure made of lathe. Lathe, normally made of thin narrow strips of wood nailed to a structure as a foundation for plaster, is made here of rulers, implying that education was Barb’s very core.

Colorful balls run vertically up the column, recalling Barb’s many happy years at CDS. As they climb, five black balls are inserted, each reflecting Barb’s bouts with breast cancer. A pink ball follows four of the black balls, signifying the cancer’s remission. After the fifth black ball is a single white ball signifying her death.

The box on the lower left indicates the Chesterfield campus. It is divided into four connected boxes to represent the building and growth of that campus. Rulers are used to construct the box and suggest education. Colored balls represent the students and their individuality. They also reflect the Montessori materials and philosophy.

The box in the upper right indicates the St. Albans campus. Again, colored balls reflect the student diversity and Montessori philosophy. Twigs, which symbolize the St. Albans country setting, hold the colored balls in place. In the lower corner, rulers are arranged in a brick pattern to recall the story that Dr. Barb often told about how the bricks for the St. Albans school building (the very kind that she had tried and failed to get) miraculously showed up one day in the St. Louis railroad yard and at a price within the budget.

A school on a mission

Our school’s mission is short and can appear trite, but it is dense and should be powerful.  We are a mission-based institution and take our mission seriously.  Every decision, great or small, gets vetted through our mission.  The mission is what makes us special.  The mission is why our families and faculty are here.  I would hope that if any one of them guessed at the mission right now, he would articulate something similar to the official version.

Academically challenging, personally supportive, diverse student body, knowledge and skills, global citizens, passion for life and learning.  Those are our key words.  Those are our top priorities.  Kids who hate school are usually not feeling appropriately challenged; they are not feeling supported; they are not developing a passion for life/learning.  Kids who are anxious about school are the same.  Kids who are bored?  The same.  Our mission paves the way for an environment that is GOOD for kids.  They will thrive when they are challenged and supported with interesting and relevant material.

Our Mission is to provide an academically challenging and personally supportive environment in which a diverse student body gains the knowledge and skills to become global citizens with a passion for life and learning. 

Happy Birthday, Dr. Barb

Dr. Barb Fulton, the beloved founder of the Fulton School at St. Albans, and incidentally, my mom, would be celebrating her 66th birthday today.   Dr. Barb, as she was affectionately nicknamed, was a champion for kids, believing that school should be a fun and joyful place, responsible to children’s overall well-being, and character growth, rather than purely academic.  She required classrooms to be student-centered and hands-on before it was fashionable, she educated parents and teachers tirelessly about child development, and she was a beautiful model of courage and grace and honesty as she battled cancer, while working full-time, for the last six years of her life.  Happy Birthday, Dr. Barb, and thanks for all you gave us!