What is a lab school?
Mills College Children’s School is the oldest laboratory school on the West Coast and serves as an integral part of the School of Education’s mission to prepare early childhood professionals and future elementary school teachers. We serve as a bridge between theory and practice for adult learners, provide quality care and education for children, and create classroom learning environments that offer research opportunities. Our K-5 students have the benefit of Head Teachers who have Master’s degrees or commensurate years of experience in the classroom and are responsible for curriculum and instruction, as well as Student Teachers preparing for a variety of careers in education whose presence allows for small group instruction with focused attention on teaching and learning.
MCCS is a progressive independent school with a constructivist model of education, a hands-on learning process that starts in our Infant/Toddler classroom and carries all the way through Fifth Grade. Teachers create spaces for design thinking, building, and constructing, giving all children the opportunity to enjoy experiences that foster exploration, creativity, and imagination. At the same time, our teachers approach education from an inquiry stance and model reflective practice with each other and the students. At the Children’s School, everyone has a stake in teaching and learning, with the result that children are engaged at their own levels of ability, challenged to take the next steps, encouraged to make hypotheses, and provided with the tools to test their ideas. Here, learning is respected, documented, and celebrated because our students are teachers just as our teachers are learners.
Student interest, teacher passion, and State of California content standards form the basis of our curriculum mapping. Teaching and learning are infused with creative approaches that meet the needs of all children. In each of our classrooms, a myriad of instructional models are employed: workshop, centers, learning stations, along with direct instruction, and project-based learning. Our teachers have the freedom to draw from multiple curricula—including but not limited to Lucy Calkins’ Writer’s Workshop, Write Source, and Words Their Way for language arts; Tokyo Shoseki (Japanese Math), TERC Investigations, and Family Math for math; Foss, GEMS, and MARE for science; and Energy Time and Responsive Classroom for social/emotional development—as well as to reach outside of these approaches and use different techniques as necessary. We supplement our core curriculum with art, music, physical education, and Spanish. We take advantage of the beautiful Mills College campus for PE, which includes use of the track field, or on rainy days, the campus gymnasium. In the spring, students swim at the Mills College Pool. We partner with the Oakland Youth Chorus for music classes that incorporate singing, movement, percussion, xylophones, and recorders.
The Elementary School program currently has four separate mixed-grade classrooms: two K/1s, a 2/3, and a 4/5. All of them serve students with a range of ages and skills. In our multi-age classrooms, children have expanded opportunities to be both leaders and followers, to learn from and to teach one another, and to develop a strong sense of community. Class configuration may shift in response to enrollment changes, so as to provide quality education for our learners.
We target approximately 20 students per classroom. Small classes afford us the opportunity to get to know our students well, build strong relationships, and provide rigorous project-based learning experiences that foster targeted instruction to meet the needs of each learner.
What is your homework policy?
We value family togetherness and share your commitment to spending quality time at home, without being inundated with homework. However, we also see tremendous benefit in homework that provides a home-to-school connection and helps parents know what their children are learning. Reading is the foundation for our homework trajectory, and so we start in Kindergarten by encouraging students to read 20 minutes per night with their families. First Grade builds on this foundation and adds some weekly focused practice work to be completed outside of school. Students in the 2/3 classroom receive a weekly homework packet with reading, writing, math, and handwriting, plus occasional family projects for science or social studies. Finally, our 4/5 students see the addition of long-term projects with periodic deadlines. This progression gives children the opportunity to develop skills related to time management, planning, and self-discipline.
We do not administer STAR assessments; instead, formative and authentic assessments inform our curriculum decisions. We offer parent-teacher conferences twice a year, as well as bi-annual progress reports that convey a thorough description of each child’s mastery of the different subject matters, without letter grades.
The school hours are 8:30 am to 3 pm for all grades, with early release at 2 pm on Wednesdays. Students have a 30-minute morning recess, including 10 minutes of snack time, and a one-hour lunch recess, including 30 minutes of eating. Weekly schedules for each classroom are displayed at our tours.
Our morning recess is supervised by Head Teachers and Student Teachers on the Elementary playground, while our lunch recess is overseen by the director of our after-care program, which is called School Age Care (SAC), along with a staff of Mills College undergraduate students. We have an expansive, freshly-refurbished yard with two large lawns, basketball and tether ball courts, play structure, group seesaw, cloud swing, monkey bars, and a sand-and-water play area. All of the grades come out to recess at the same time and it’s a wonderful opportunity for a mix of ages to play together. In fact, we often see the older students taking younger children under their wings. Our SAC director, who is also our PE teacher, ensures that students are developing gross motor skills while enjoying creative and cooperative play. Structured games (capture the flag, Frisbee golf, basketball, etc.) are offered at lunch time and our SAC director provides clinics, teaching specific skills, both physical and social, about how to play and include each other in play. On rainy days, students have recess in their classrooms and look forward to this free time with a variety of indoor activities and games.
Students bring a morning snack to school. This year we are piloting a new hot lunch service program that gives families the flexibility to order whenever they want. Otherwise, children bring their own lunch to school. A hot snack is served to students who stay after school. Younger students (K & 1) eat snack and lunch on the porch outside of their classrooms, while the older grades (2/3 & 4/5) eat on the playground.
What about after care?
After school, our classrooms and yard convert to the School Age Care (SAC) program, which runs until 5:45 pm every day (see tuition sheet for pricing). Families have lots of flexibility with SAC: You can sign up for full time care, create your own schedule (one hour a day, three times a week, etc.), or drop in at the last minute by emailing or phoning the office. We believe that free play is important for children after a day of learning in the classroom, and so we provide unstructured time in SAC for children to engage in open-ended creative play, fine-motor activities, Lego and block engineering, crafts, cooking, and more. Students can also do homework in SAC or sign up for any of the various enrichment classes, such as martial arts, drumming, drama, or dance, offered each semester.