Educating the Whole Child at Palmer School

April 14, 2017

If you step into the doors of the Palmer School on our Columbus campus, you’ll quickly realize it’s more than a building with classrooms.  A large table is positioned in a communal space with the elementary classes’ artwork visible everywhere you turn.  Down the hall, you’ll find several classrooms scattered with students in desks, on computers, in the floor, or lounging on beanbags. While aspects of the room are what you might expect of an elementary school, this is not your average classroom.

Students who attend the Palmer School are residents of Palmer Home for Children’s beautiful campus. They get up each morning and walk, run, or bike to the school building, where they’re met by four smiling educators who are genuinely thrilled to see their little faces. These teachers, backed by their years of experience and equipped with Whole Child Initiative training, know that their students need more than just an education. Every day, they strive to address the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of each child as well, in order to serve the whole child.

Dora Vaughan teaches children in kindergarten through second grade. It’s a familiar environment for her, as she spent 35 years teaching second grade in a nearby public school.  Her classroom at Palmer School has fewer students, but many of them need more assistance than students attending a traditional school.  It’s a challenge she meets head on.  Her students can be easily discouraged and, often, the trauma they’ve faced before coming to Palmer Home shows up in their attitudes towards themselves or others.  “We ‘have church’ during the day, sometimes. We have to get to the root of their discouragement. A child isn’t going to perform academically if they’re overwhelmed in the moment,” Vaughan shares, “but positive reinforcement can make them believe they can do things they didn’t know they could do. We don’t say ‘I can’t’.”

Often, children who begin at Palmer School are already behind academically when they arrive.  Some may not know their colors, letters, shapes or numbers. They may have never held a pencil or colored a picture before. To accommodate a classroom of students with varying ages, academic levels, and backgrounds, much of their instruction and practice happens through online programs students can complete on computers and tablets.  This allows Vaughan to address the individual needs of each child in a more focused approach. But rest assured, teachers at the Palmer School are not content to let learning end in the classroom.

“We’re always doing something fun,” Vaughan says. Every month, they participate in active learning experiences that tie into themes from their regular studies. Vaughan also reads chapter books to them, a little bit at a time. “When we finish a book, we do an art project, and an edible project. When our class finished Charlotte’s Web, we made little edible spiders.”  Now they’re reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Earlier in the year they studied Johnny Appleseed and, along with the upper elementary classes, had an entire day devoted to apple-related projects and fun, complete with bobbing for apples, apple artwork, and of course apples as snacks!

“It motivates them,” Vaughan states. “They know that their computer work comes first, but they look forward to the special projects.”  What they may not realize is that the hands-on experiences are just as educational.  Whether it’s a trip to the public library to encourage a love of books, flying kites and a visit from the local meteorologist to learn about weather, art projects that develop fine motor skills, or games that help develop gross motor skills, learning comes alive in and out of the classroom.

Vaughan knows that every moment she spends with a child matters, and she embraces her position at the Palmer School with joy. “If I touch one child, I’ve made a difference,” she reflects. “I try to teach them that their education is so important, but doing the right thing is more important. We’re molding these children for their future.”