ISLA Academy brings innovative education to Dominican North Coast,
Puerto Plata.- Complete with a swimming pool and lots of green space, theISLA Academy doesn’t look like an ordinary school. Actually, it strives to beanything but ordinary.
Housed in what had been a two-story home in the PlayaLaguna community of Sosúa, the school serves approximately 50 families,primarily of North American and European backgrounds. The parents don’t want anold-school approach for their children, says ISLA Academy co-founder SeanBennett.
"The community is small but interested in new modelsof education," says Bennett, a lifelong educator originally fromBrunswick, Georgia. "The parents are open to putting their kids into the21st century. It’s exciting to be an educator and to be able to do that. We’retaking parents by the hand and walking them to a new form of education."
Students don’t memorize. Rote learning is out. "That’show to kill the love of learning," said Bennett, who has taught in theU.S., Asia and Africa. "We favor concepts, the big ideas. We focus on helping students ask the rightquestions, investigate to find those answers, and then communicate theirunderstanding."
The learning at ISLA Academy is personalized. Teachers use the inquiry method in theirclassrooms, with each student working at their own pace and learning the skillsnecessary to become a truly independent researcher. Every six weeks, thestudents work through a fully integrated transdisciplinary unit thatincorporates not only all major academic areas, but also creative arts,self-management skills, and character traits.
In building the school’s composting bin, for example,students incorporated math and geometry to determine measurements and angles.Through science they learned the process of composting—and what to do about thefruit-fly problem that often comes with composting.
"You can’t just build a box and walk away,"Bennett explained. "We get the kids building, presenting, communicating,collaborating."
Nature and protecting the Earth figure prominently in thecurriculum, which emphasizes fun, hands-on, progressive and challenginglearning.
"Children are powerfully affected — cognitively,psychologically, emotionally and spiritually — by their interactions withnature," Bennett said. "We sincerely believe that nature is thegreatest teacher that inspires creativity and positivity."
ISLA Academy’s physical education takes advantage of thesame conditions that have made the North Shore an international watersportsdestination. The school offers surfing classes and hopes to add otherwatersports later. There’s also kickball, soccer, hiking and capture the flag.Swimming lessons, starting at infant and toddler level, take place out front inthe school pool.
"Being physically healthy is such an important part ofliving that it must be a central part of education," Bennett said.
Students will also be skilled users of computer technologywhile being "keenly aware of its dangers, opportunities and pitfalls,"he added.
In addition to school faculty, volunteers share theirknowledge with students. A professional musician from the US volunteered duringthe second semester to enhance the music program. A Russian biologist isworking to develop an aquaponics system for the school garden. A retired U.S. expat involves kids in cookingin the school kitchen, the ISLA Café, which also serves up delicious vegetarianlunches for students and staff.
Bennett and his wife, Juliette Verville, also an internationaleducator, opened ISLA Academy in 2015, offering preschool through high school.First-year enrollment reached 30 students, with an additional 20 inafter-school clubs. In just its secondyear, enrollment has increased to nearly 75 students, with a waiting list formany of the classes.
The academy works closely with the fully accreditedClonlara School of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a pioneer in the home schoolingmovement. Bennett submits a plan for each student, communicates on his or herprogress and assesses each student using U.S. Common Core standards.
Given some of the parents’ transient lifestyles, the schoolensures the children are at grade level should they return to their homecountry.
Bennett began teaching at age 16 as a youth mentor in hishometown. His career took him to South Korea, Vietnam and Tanzania. In 2012, hemoved to the Dominican Republic and spent two years as head of the EnglishDepartment at the country’s first STEM magnet school, the Liceo Cientifico inSalcedo.
"Teaching and guidance were a part of me before I everknew what I wanted to be when I grew up’," he said.
Bennett spent two years looking for an ideal site beforechoosing the 2,500-square-meter house with its inviting pool and spacious yardas ISLA Academy’s home.
"It doesn’t look like a traditional school, but it’sjust the right feel for us," he said.
Registration is open for the 2016-2017 academic year forages 2-18, classes begin August 29th. http://islaacademy.com.