Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Longtime educators start new ‘experiential’ school

Levy and Weekes seek to create new model for education

Express Staff Writer

Harry Weekes, who previously taught at The Community School in Sun Valley and Barge Levy, former director of the Silver Creek Alternative School, have teamed up to found The Sage School. Photo by Willy Cook

Two longtime Blaine County educators have quit their regular jobs to start a new private school in Hailey that they claim will be a "model in education."

Barge Levy, former director of the Silver Sage Alternative School, and Harry Weekes, who previously taught at The Community School in Sun Valley, have teamed up to found The Sage School. The school promises a different approach to education by providing an even blend of basic studies and "experiential" learning.

"What we're trying to do is provide a structure that has an intensive academic structure, complemented by an equally intensive experiential component," Weekes said.

By "experiential," Levy and Weekes mean lots of real-life projects, field trips and other avenues for hands-on studies.

Between the two of them, Levy and Weekes have 60 years of teaching experience, but they left their jobs at the end of the last school year "to do it the way we think it should be done," Levy said.

"Learning by doing—we didn't invent it—it's just a wonderful add-on you can do," Levy said. "What Harry and I have in common is the idea of individual learning."

Though Levy and Weekes want to develop a new model for education, one of their teaching ideas is reminiscent of the old one-room school, where older students were mixed with younger ones.

"There's a tremendous power in having a mentorship, with older kids working with younger kids," Levy said. "When it works, it's very powerful."

The Sage School

Enrollment is open to students in grades six through 12. Levy and Weekes hope for an initial enrollment of 20 students with future plans to expand to 100.

They plan to open the school Sept. 8, even though they haven't yet finalized a location. Tentatively, barring regulatory complications, they plan to open The Sage School at the old U.S. Forest Service campus on south Main Street in Hailey. If that location doesn't work out, they have another location or two in mind.

"We're going to open one way or another," Weekes said.

One year's tuition is $12,000. The men are working toward establishing a financial aid program to help some students pay the fee.

Levy and Weekes are reticent to put a label on the type of students they hope to draw to the school, other than to say they want students of differing ages, differing experiences and differing levels of academic achievement.

Levy and Weekes have a number of hands-on projects in the works for the coming school year. For example, they plan to work with the Hunger Coalition and the Souper Supper in gathering fruit and preparing breads, pies, jams and applesauce for sales at area farmers' markets. But Levy and Weekes emphasize that the project will involve more than just picking fruit and making pies. Students will also study fruit tree distribution and fruit tree health in the Wood River Valley.

The men plan to recruit authors, artists and other experts for classroom visits. Studies of owls and hawks are planned at the International Birds of Prey facility in Boise and the Idaho Bird Observatory at Idaho City.

Tours of mines, visits to farms and guitar building are on a list of potential projects. Levy and Weekes are also looking at avalanche, search-and-rescue and CPR courses. Wilderness survival and digital videography and mapmaking are also being considered.

In a written statement to the Idaho Mountain Express, Weekes described The Sage School curriculum as a "new and highly integrated type of education, one that engages students in real and meaningful work, one that helps adolescents become healthy, engaged and skilled citizens, one that fosters strong community interaction.

"In a world that poses difficult challenges on all fronts, from the environment to education to the economy, and where the digital landscape has fundamentally changed the way we access and use information, what remains constant is the need for engaged citizens who know themselves, who are committed to community action and who appreciate their roles and responsibilities within their communities. Now, more than ever, we need a creative, adaptive and responsive citizenry. The Sage School seeks to help create this citizenry."

"We're in the theoretical mode in some ways," Weekes said.

Sixty years of experience

Levy has 43 years of teaching experience and Weekes has 17.

Weekes, 40, taught for 17 years at The Community School. He instructed high school students in biology, environmental sciences and studio art. He worked with students in grades six through 12 in outdoor programs and community service.

Levy, 66, was most recently director of Silver Creek Alternative School, which with his retirement is being restructured and renamed Silver Creek High School. Levy founded the alternative school 16 years ago.

Levy has taught in both private and public schools at levels ranging from elementary to adult education. He has taught reading to prison inmates and has worked with gifted and talented students.

Levy and Weekes agreed that they are taking the best of what they learned as teachers and applying it to the curriculum for The Sage School.

"We'll be stumbling over ways to make this work," Levy said. "It's experiential for us too. There are so many ways to investigate without even opening a textbook."


Mission Statement

"The mission of The Sage School is to create an intensive, experiential-learning environment for adolescents [that] is committed to educational excellence and developing self-awareness through community action and humanitarian and ecological responsibility."

For more information, contact Barge Levy at 720-0619 or Harry Weekes at 721-0678.

Terry Smith:

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