Unique, individualized school helping nurture capable, kind, engaged students
Keystone Adventure School and Farm is an accredited school for children from 3 years old through 5th grade. A unique school, Keystone focuses on individualized education of their students and boasts a 15-acre campus with farm animals, creek, pond and ample play spaces for students.
Keystone’s faculty members know all children will successfully love
to learn when they are treated with respect and kindness. Children are loved, and they love in return. Unlike most schools, Keystone’s curriculum is not driven by standardized tests; instead, it is driven by the individual learner’s readiness to learn new concepts. Keystone kids are kind, capable learners and are eager to grow emotionally, socially and academically.
The school also offers an incredibly popular outdoor/indoor summer program called Summer on the Farm. This summer Keystone will offer a 4-year-old summer program in addition to their typical summer camp, which serves rising kindergartners through graduating 5th graders.
2021 Family Favorites Finalist - Preschool & Specialty School
What is Keystone's educational philosophy and how does it impact the students at your school?
John - I believe all children can and will learn when they are surrounded by a community of eager learners, and that school should be fun, exciting, and free of the stress that standardized testing brings. Children at our school love learning and being outdoors on our campus, experiencing the creek, pond, farm animals, and 15 acres of beautiful property. They love laughing and playing with their friends and they also love to learn in that environment.Jenny - All children are natural and gifted learners. The interruptions to a child’s fluency in learning are mostly thanks to an educational system that was not designed with learning or developing learners in mind. John and I interviewed scores of experts (kids) and then designed a learning environment based on our findings. Children learn best in safe social situations of their own choosing, guided by their piqued curiosity and interests, without arbitrary timetables or external pressures. In essence, kids learn best with friends, having fun, without stress. They love being in charge of their own learning, collaborating and arguing with friends, building and deconstructing and building again, getting wet, muddy, making messes, climbing trees, reading words, writing stories, doing math, art, running and falling, spinning, singing songs and dancing wildly.
What has changed in education the most since you started? What are the current trends and where is education going?
John - Since I started teaching in 1992, there has been a significant switch in what must be taught to kids. There is a strong emphasis on standardized testing that I don’t think measures the true abilities of all kids. Standardized testing expects all students to be in the same place at the same time, and teachers are expected to have kids at a certain point in a certain amount of time. Not all kids learn the same and at the same time. Due to standardized testing, there has been a greater focus on testing and a much smaller focus on the individual child as a learner. Education must be focused on the individual child and meet their social and emotional needs before focusing on their academic needs. The demands of standardized testing leaves no time for social and emotional growth in schools.Jenny - Sadly, not enough has changed since I started teaching more than 40 years ago. (Yikes!) As John mentions, standardized testing virtually eliminates the chance for inspiration, epiphany, reflection, reapproach. These are the moments of learning we foster and protect. Standardized testing magnifies the negative side of failure, where at Keystone, we find failure as a friend and part of the process towards success. It cannot begin to measure the true knowledge base of an individual child, or his process for problem solving and critical thinking. We are partial to conversations and collaborations with children to help guide them towards their best version. Time limits, isolation, and stress must be replaced with unstructured time and space, snacks, water, and laughter.Everything has changed with the intrusion of Covid-19 into our lives. We’ve been forced to look at the delivery of learning differently. Online learning has almost destroyed our souls, but the kids keep bringing us back. For a school whose premise is to get kids outside, knee-deep in nature and childhood, this has been really tough. We’ve had to put devices in the hands of 3-4 year olds, whereas before, those did not enter our preschool classroom. We have been forced to think creatively within a less than creative space. We’ve learned that there are certain ways to include virtual learning that can help especially older kids. We pushed as much learning outside as possible.John built 13 outdoor classrooms, and we will forever forward push learning outside. We found ways to create conversations online, to push kids away from the screen and build projects, even as the teacher was present onscreen for questions. John created an online teaching classroom with 3-4 “rooms,” providing 3-4 open classrooms replicating the blessed chaos of a classroom full of questioning children. All of these lessons will factor into how we go forward. Hopefully, delivery of learning will change and be more child and process-focused and less outcome based. We will continue to do what is right for each child, for the right reason.
How has the pandemic changed things at your school?
John - Keystone believes in protecting its students, staff, families, and community from the spread of Covid-19. We have implemented our own data-based metric to decide when we are in-person or online virtually. Although our metric has kept us in distance learning for a good portion of our year, we do offer daily, safe, outdoor time to our students each week where they can socialize with their classmates distantly and experience our amazing outdoor campus. It is not what we want, but it is safe enough that when other schools have shifted to fully online learning, we can continue being on campus safely.
How is Keystone meeting the current needs of our families?
John - Our students, during the height of the pandemic, get to continue to come to our campus weekly for one-hour visits with their classmates. These are important socializing and bonding times unique to our school. Our virtual program is tailored to the individual needs of each student with a blend of whole class and individualized instruction. Students are face-to-face with their teachers throughout the day and have a strong emotional connection with the teacher and other students in their class and school. We also offer additional classes that are a part of our normal day such as art, PE, all-school music sing-a-long, and even all-school pasture time with our animals. We also have fun game days to break the monotony of virtual learning. Parents are constantly in direct contact with their child’s teacher to ensure that the child is learning and actively participating, or to help the child through the difficulties of online learning.Jenny - John nailed it here. These small group, in-person, outdoor visits are the foundation for the relationships between kids and teachers, building safety and comfort that strengthens the online experience.
What makes KASAF stand out among all the educational choices they have?
John - For me, it’s LOVE. Our school’s foundation is built on a mutual love for one another and the belief that all children are unique individuals who deserve love and respect. We believe in the power of the child’s voice and the compassion and understanding that they all have when those traits are modeled for them. We believe that all children can and will learn when they are allowed to do so at a pace that makes sense for each unique individual.Jenny - It’s the love. They feel it, we feel it. It’s real.
What are you most proud of during your tenure at KASAF?
John - Graduation! Each year, we gather as a school to say goodbye to our friends as they step out into a different world. During that ceremony, you can look around the room and see what Keystone is all about. Children are sitting in each other's laps, holding hands and smiling, laughing, and crying. Our graduates have a confident but nervous energy about them. They know they are ready to go out into the world beyond Keystone, but they are also having to say goodbye to their family. This event exhibits a love I have never seen in a school before. It shows how a school can impact a child’s life to such a degree that the child will be changed forever in a way they will never forget.Jenny - For me, it’s the little moments that we are blessed to share with kids, sometimes when they don’t know we’re watching. Children have all the answers and very little obstacles in the way of being the finest humans. We have so much to learn from them every day. They still demonstrate gifts that are far too uncommon in the adult world today...common decency, common sense, the ability to find common ground. Seeing them be kind to another child, often unspoken and unprovoked. Watching as the light bulb goes on and in a magical moment, all the letters, sounds, and meaning come together in a burst that we call reading. Knowing a child’s specific struggles for years and seeing them knit together the courage and ability to face down what once held them captive. And as John said, watching these little humans move through Keystone from 3 years old to graduating in 5th grade. The love...it all comes back to the love.
How do you engage your parents/families in your students’ educations?
John - Because our school is small, we grow a family that is inclusive of parents and children. Parents play an active role in our school. Whether it’s organizing our celebrations, helping with our fundraisers or coming to school for campout and community pasture, we believe our family extends into our students’ homes.Jenny - Our parents choose Keystone and our unique approach to education because they trust us, and they recognize the value in their children spending their days surrounded by love, curiosity, lots of play and learning with friends, and hard work both inside and outside in fresh air. They are hardworking families who sacrifice to make Keystone happen for their children. As ardent supporters of their children’s learning journeys, it’s natural and organic for them to engage on every level at Keystone.
What is the most unique educational opportunity offered by KASAF?
John - Well, we do have some amazing farm animals. We have two miniature donkeys, four llamas, a goat, a sheep and a lot of chickens. But of those, the llamas offer something you don’t get to see at any other school. Each year, our two females give birth to a baby cria, and more often than not, it happens during the day in front of all of our kids, 3-year-olds through fifth grade.Jenny - John’s right. When we were conceiving Keystone, having large animals was foundational for us. The hard work of shoveling poop, going beyond oneself, the giving and the receiving of love and respect for our animal friends gives even tiny humans a real-life understanding of how important they are and that they do have an impact. Self esteem cannot be taught or bought; it must be earned by experience to be authentic. Our little people are authentic, kind, real, and messy, just like our animal friends!