Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


Ventana offers twist on traditional education

Courtesy of Ventana School
Students at Ventana School in Los Altos participate in an outdoor lesson.

Tucked away on a quiet, hilly campus in Los Altos, Ventana School is working to redefine school for the 21st century.

Ventana’s approach to education does not include new iPads or a state-of-the-art science lab. Founded in 2005 by Christ Episcopal Church, Ventana is one of the few schools in the country practicing the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education, where teachers guide children to make their own discoveries.

Marcy Barton, Ventana’s new curriculum director, brings more than 40 years of teaching experience and expertise on curriculum, which she honed via her own independent lab school, Creekside Learning Lab, and her work with Stanford University’s d.school, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, which emphasizes “design thinking.”

“What is remarkable is that our hands-on, inquiry-based program for children meshes so well with Marcy’s approach,” said Nicole Bien, Ventana’s head of school, of Barton’s experience with design thinking and her “disruptive model of curriculum integration through big ideas.”

The concepts carried out in Ventana’s classrooms are open-ended and encourage exploration. They are full of natural and art materials – there are no commercial learning kits or toys.

“The call in the 21st century is for kids who can think, solve problems, collaborate and communicate,” Barton said.

Barton will help teachers improve their skill at developing curriculum across all disciplines based on “big questions,” like “Who am I?” or “Is conflict a means to an end?”

At Creekside Learning Lab, Barton showed that without workbooks or traditional test prep, and with little direct instruction, students exceeded the standardized test scores of their peers in traditional classrooms. Students were “off the charts” in science, she said, adding that after only one year in the program, they became more independent, empathetic and articulate.

Both Barton and Bien said they take care to distinguish Ventana’s project-based approach from what many people know as “school projects.” At Ventana, they said, a project is based on a student’s own line of inquiry rather than a teacher’s assignment, and the process is more important than the product.

The school’s Third Place Speaker Series has scheduled a discussion on project work with author and educator Judy Harris Helm 6:30 p.m. Thursday in Graham Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.

Ventana School is located at 1040 Border Road, Los Altos. For more information, visit ventanaschool.org.

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