The Colby School looks beyond academics | ParkRecord.com
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The Colby School looks beyond academics

Frank Fisher, Of the Record staff

Looks can be deceiving. From its outside appearance, The Colby School in its Victorian elegance may suggest prim and proper teaching.

Inside, the progressive teaching methods help prepare students for a changing world.

The Colby School, located on State Route 224, teaches more than 100 students, grades K-8. From its inception, the school has practiced the Tribes method of learning.

Tribes TLC (Tribes Learning Communities) was founded by educator Jeanne Gibbs in the late 1970’s. Tribes is a teaching model, in which students often work together as equals in small groups as together they learn the core subjects, helping each other . This supportive interaction with one another, teachers and parentsis intended to create a fertile center of learning the core subjects such as math, history and English.

Responsibility for learning is transferred from the teacher to the student groups, where all students have an equal voice in the learning process. Fehlberg said that Tribes is meant to empower students, encourage individuality and self confidence, while, at the same time, including, support and respect for the views of others. A safe environment is created where students contribute without fear of criticism. A student not ready to voice an opinion may pass to another student. "If kids feel safe, they are more willing to take academic risks," she said.

But what defines a true Tribes school according to Fehlberg, is that all of the teachers at Colby have been trained in Tribes methods. Parents are encouraged to become part of the process and are offered training in Tribes methods, not only practicing their new-found skills with their children, but using them in everyday life. Fehlberg said Colby is the only school fully practicing Tribes in the state.

"Everybody is doing it in the school," she said. "That’s the best part — it’s also the most frustrating part," she says with a lightness of spirit. "Everyone has a voice. Decisions take longer with the parents, kids and administrators involved." One gets the idea Fehlberg savors every minute of this total involvement by interested participants administrators and students. When a supportive group comes together, each member’s input is appreciated and decisions are based on a stronger, more inclusive intelligence.

Fehlberg related a real-life example of a Tribes decision in the Colby School. How could the Pledge of Allegiance best serve the students? "A lot of parents wanted to express their patriotism. Parents had meetings, teachers had meetings, and then both came together in an open meeting." She said the Tribes-based groups came up with a weekly recitation of the pledge and it was decided that students should be given a look at patriotism in our country and in other countries. But that didn’t solve all the concerns. She said, the kids then asked why someone should say something that they don’t believe in. They realized after a discussion that they don’t have to say the Pledge.

Tribes teachers attempt to maximize students’ potential by being aware of the different ways people learn and reaching the students in the ways that work best for them. Some students also work best in a group, while others do better doing individual work. Tribes students learn to do both.

Respect and appreciation for others’ differences is a key component to Tribes learning. This celebration of differences is especially evident around the holidays; where Fehlberg said that students are allotted time to celebrate their familiar traditions. She said students are encouraged to share what is special to them and their families.

"We have a culture of respect here," Fehlberg said. A respect that celebrates the individuality of others.

"You have to stand up for what you believe in, even if you are standing alone," Fehlberg said. "That is so important, because what you believe in is yours."


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