Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rainbow Community School: Asheville, NC

The Rainbow Community School sits in the heart of downtown West Asheville. Our tour began with their whimsical playground, built according to the wishes of the children and sourced from downed trees and other sustainable materials. The architect melded the students’ ideas with child development research to create what’s now known as Gnome Village playground. Using the phi ratio, they fulfilled students’ requests for a climbing wall, a water feature with a bridge, towers, slides, a sand area, and an outdoor theater space. Later in the day we saw a group of students on the outdoor stage, singing along to their teacher's guitar.

The rainbow of the school’s name is deeply integrated into all aspects of each day. Seven facets of development of the whole child are represented by the seven colors of the rainbow. In addition to mental (cognitive) learning, teachers integrate spiritual, emotional, social, physical, natural, and creative learning. The program strives to integrate all seven aspects in a true balance, as opposed to valuing creative learning as solely an enrichment activity of secondary importance, as is true of many traditional schools. According to our guide, the school blends Waldorf, Montessori, and Reggio forms & philosophies.

In each classroom, students & teachers begin each day with a centering practice. All gather together on the dedicated “centering rug,” where a nondenominational altar provides a space for candles, seasonal gifts from nature and other treats. After the candle is lit, the class practices centering breathing, as well as songs, poems and other teachings. This centering space is used throughout the day as a gathering space, for academic as well as social and spiritual activities.

Learning is organized into in-depth thematic units, incorporating each of the seven domains. Units begin with relatively simple themes in Kindergarten, and become more complex throughout the years. At the end of each thematic unit, each class hosts a feast for all students, teachers, parents, and other community members who have been involved.

The kindergarten was exploring their Butterflies & Community theme. Monarch butterflies that the children had watched hatch from eggs, lived in a leafy enclosure surrounded by magnifying glasses. Through watching, investigating, and following their curiosity about the insects, the students had learned about migration, the butterflies’ trip to Mexico, the concept of symmetry, and inter- and intra-species communication, among other far-ranging topical explorations. 


In the 3rd grade classroom, the children were working collaboratively on creating a mind map of everything they had learned about corn. Children's weekly jobs included tasks such as altar keeper as well as more traditional jobs such as pencil sharpener and line leader. On the wall hung a poster reminding students of how to use "I language" to communicate their needs. A separate light-filled room had tables for small group and independent work, and shelves full of natural objects for the students to investigate, shared form the teacher's personal collection.


Rainbow Community School values communication and parent teacher conferences very highly. At the beginning of each year is the "listening conference." The teacher only listens, while parents speak on their goals, their child's learning style, and wishes for continued communication throughout the year. It is mandatory for parents to lay this groundwork with the teacher. As a type of response, the teacher creates a "State of Grace" document, where they outline their pedagogy, teaching and communication style, and hopes and dreams for the year.

Colorful curtains on the Spanish classroom's window.

We were very warmly welcomed by the folks at Rainbow. Thank you for your hospitality!

More goodies:
  • The school is currently expanding to include what's now a church, which will be open for community growth opportunities (e.g. Al-Anon meetings) as well as school functions.  
  • Every Friday is set aside for field trips and volunteering.
  • Beginning in middle school, students complete Personal Interest Projects, in which they receive support to study in-depth a topic of their choice. 
I was excited to see a school that had strong centering & meditative rituals built into their day. Additionally, the student input into the playground was spectacular. What if we encouraged students to help design the spaces they want to learn in! Does anyone know of any other examples of this? 

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