STAR School Core Values
Adopted by The STAR School Governing Board
(Mark Sorensen, Thomas Walker, Jr, Rick StGermaine, Kate Sorensen, Evelyn McCabe) July, 2012,
(updated July, 2015)
Service To All Relations (STAR)
Since this value is built into our name as a school, it is clearly one of our foundational values. Service To All Relations recognizes that we have many relations that matter and that being helpful in those relations is a worthy goal. In fact, it recognizes, in the indigenous way, that we are related to all things in nature: plants, animals, rocks, rivers, mountains, the sun and the wind. Referring to our home planet and the atmosphere that sustains us as Mother Earth and Father Sky are two ways of recognizing this that are taught in Navajo culture. Navajo kinship and clanship (K’e’) is also a way of recognizing this. Service To All Relations helps us to remember that we are all interconnected. So while it is certainly true that Service To All Relations is about being kind and compassionate to ourselves and one another, the deeper understanding is that since we are all interconnected, whatever we do to others, we are doing to ourselves. Navajo elders as well as elders of many other indigenous peoples, have frequently taught us that we are connected to all of nature; that we have a very real relationship with our home planet, and with all the animals and plants that live with us on this planet, and we ignore that relationship at our peril.
Providing service to our families, school, and community as well as the land around us also produces a sense of empowerment…. We feel that we have sovereignty through service. Sovereignty through service means that as we work to be of service to one another, to our families, to our school, and to our community and nation, we develop sovereignty, or the ability to speak up about what is happening around us because we have put in the effort to make things better.
This commitment to be of service to all relations informs many of our activities that can benefit the community beyond our school campus. We are committed, for example, to developing a Wellness Center that will serve the mental, emotional and physical health of our students, staff, and community members. We also are actively working to enhance the ability of our local farmers to provide healthy local food to our school and community.
How do we demonstrate being of Service To All Relations? Being kind and compassionate to ourselves, each other and all living things is an important guide in being of service. As a school we realized that it would be helpful to not only have a clear set of values that we seek to live by, but to develop a rubric that helps us to see our current behavior in light of those values. These values we call our 4R’s: Respect, Responsibility, Relationship, and Reasoning. The rubric that has been developed for the 4R’s allows everyone to see how well their own behavior meets these four values and every quarter on how well they are meeting the 4R’s in their behavior. All staff members are expected to model and live these values with each other and with the students. Annual evaluations of STAR School staff will include an appraisal of how they have implemented the 4R’s in their work.
As of 2012, the STAR Governing Board established a graduation requirement that all students, before they complete the 8th grade and graduate from the STAR School, must complete a service project that includes all of the following elements:
- Demonstrates at least one core standard in STEM
- Is of service to the environment
- Addresses a need in the school and/or the surrounding community
Similarly, the addendum offered to the staff by the Governing Board to supplement their salaries will include their doing yearlong projects with their class or significant group of students that meet the standards of service to the community as well as addressing a need in the school and/or the surrounding community.
The 4 R’s: Respect, Relationship, Responsibility, and Reasoning
Respect is demonstrated by active listening, (SLANT) by allowing the expression of emotion without ridicule, by honoring each other’s ability to make up our own mind about something, and by acting to make sure that personal space and possessions are treated with dignity. Respect allows us to recognize that each person has something to offer; each person has value even if we don’t we see right away what their value is. At its highest level, Respect may be thought of as the ability to see and acknowledge the light and beauty in each person’s face including our own.
Relationship is demonstrated by exercising K’e’ (acknowledging to one another how you are related by clan and that “my relations are my medicine”), by doing your best to “love your brother as you love yourself”, by doing your best to communicate clearly and empathetically with one another, and by helping the group you are working in to progress toward a worthwhile goal. At its highest level, Relationship is recognizing that the other person or being is not separate from me but that we are interconnected.
Responsibility is demonstrated by doing what you say you are going to do, by continually working to improve your performance, by willingly taking on a job or duty that you believe is going to help someone, by showing others that you are “able to respond” if a need arises for someone to help, by going “the extra mile” when someone needs help, and by looking for ways in which you can make a situation better and then acting on it without being told. Sometimes we show our being responsible by protecting those who are weaker or in danger; sometimes we show our being responsible by nurturing those who need to know they are cared for. In order to be responsible, we need to be able to either protect or nurture, depending on the person and situation.
Reasoning is demonstrated by thinking things through before you act, by talking things through instead of resorting to violence, by trying to clarify what the facts are in any problem-solving situation, and by continually making efforts to improve when presented with facts or another viewpoint that makes sense. In addition, of course, reasoning is vital to our being able to solve problems, and one of our main goals of our instruction at STAR School is to be great problem- solvers ourselves and to show our students how to become excellent problem-solvers.
Expecting Excellence in Preparation of our Students for Life
As a school one of our main purposes is to prepare our students academically for further success in school (in our case, in high school or college). This means doing our best to meet students’ learning needs so that they can perform at or above grade level in all major subjects. It also means that we want our students to have the skills and attitudes necessary for creating for themselves meaningful work and meaningful family life. We strive to keep challenging our staff and students so that we can help students discover what they are passionate about learning and help them get truly excited about learning . We keep striving to improve our teaching techniques, teaching materials, and classroom management so that we can see steady improvement in students’ academic skills and applied knowledge. We pay attention to data, and we do our best to respond to the data with meaningful ways to enhance student performance within the context of our school values. One of the outcomes of looking at our data has resulted in the extension of our highly successful math instruction program in the preschool using Montessori materials into grades K through 3. We are convinced that high quality early childhood education is a vitally important part in the success of our students.
How We Demonstrate Effective Classroom Behavior Management
Schools have a critical role in our society of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next. The learning climate of our school is designed to support the values of mutual respect, motivation, creativity, teamwork, and sharing. If everyone on our staff models an environment that has order, structure, and purpose, and there is an atmosphere of caring about each person, the students will demonstrate respect. Each of the 4R’s will have a greater opportunity for student success when all stakeholders understand, appreciate, and follow acceptable standards of classroom management practices. In the Handbook of Classroom Management: Research: Research Practice and Contemporary Issues, Weinstein and Evertson, (2006), the authors describe classroom management as the actions taken to create an environment that supports and facilitates academic and social-emotional learning. Toward this goal, teachers and other staff must:
1) develop caring, supportive relationships with and among students;
2) organize and implement instruction in ways that optimize students’ access to learning;
3) use group management methods that encourage students’ engagement in academic tasks;
4) promote the development of students’ social skills and self-regulation; and
5) use appropriate interventions to assist students with behavior problems.
Classroom management has also been described as a process consisting of key tasks that teachers must attend to in order to develop an environment that supports learning. These tasks include:
1) organizing the physical environment,
2) establishing rules and routines that the students know well,
3) developing caring relationships,
4) providing engaging instruction, and
5) preventing and responding to discipline problems.
The STAR School promotes and expects its instructional staff to create a learning climate that is consistently characterized by effective classroom management practices.
However, success in school is clearly not a sufficient goal by itself if we are aiming to develop the whole person. We must consider the development of the physical, emotional, and, yes, spiritual aspects of each child, in addition to their mental development. Although as a school it is not our job to teach the students in any particular spiritual set of teachings, we recognize that students who do have this guidance at home or in the community tend to do better in school, so we welcome opportunities for students to express themselves spiritually in whatever way they choose . The physical aspects we must consider to promote success include the food students eat at school, the amount of exercise we involve them in, the amount of outside activity we involve students in, how safe our environment is for students, and healthy habits we help students develop. The emotional aspects we must consider include the ability of students to work cooperatively with one another, the ability of students to resolve conflicts peaceably with one another, and the emotional safety students feel at school (free from excessive teasing and taunting). All of these social-emotional and physical factors contribute to students’ readiness to learn. In order to create a school-wide atmosphere to support this, all staff members at the school must seek to create this same atmosphere in how we treat one another. The mission of The STAR School includes the goal that we adults must do our best to treat one another in a way that reflects not only how we would like to be treated but also how we expect the children to treat one another. In the words of Ghandi, “we must BE the change we wish to see in the world”.
Honoring our Place and Place-Based Education
We are a little rural school located on the edge of the Navajo Nation, serving a population of students that is almost entirely Navajo. Since the late 1800’s this area has been the scene of much interaction and sometimes conflict between Navajos, Hopis and Anglos. It is on the interface between cultures. The area where the school is built is also the edge of the pinion/juniper forest as it turns into the high desert about 20 miles east of Flagstaff and the San Francisco Peaks, which are known in Navajo as Dook’o’oosliid. . The whole area is part of the Colorado Plateau, which extends not only across the Navajo Nation to the north and east but also to the west including the Grand Canyon. It is an area of incredible cultural, botanical, and geographic diversity and awesome beauty. This is our place. The STAR School ‘s location in this place is purposeful, so it is part of our core values to honor this place, the people, the plants and the animals who live here and have lived here, as well as the cultures that have grown out of this land.
How Do we Demonstrate Honoring Our Place?
Even though our area is quite arid and farming and gardening is challenging, indigenous people have lived in this area for many centuries and have successfully supported their families and communities without food being brought from anywhere else. Thus one of the goals at STAR is to weave into our curriculum lessons in the uses of native plants in the area as well as local knowledge in how to successfully farm and garden as well as how to provide nutritious food to the local population. As technologies develop, however, it is entirely appropriate to gather and use local knowledge that is more recent. For example, the co-founders of the school lived for 20 years on a ranch near the school using only solar and wind power. This knowledge and experience has been utilized and expanded at the STAR School in the form of robust solar arrays and wind turbines. The most recent three wind turbines at the school were in fact first designed by a man who developed them while he lived only a few miles from where the school now stands. Thus not only is it an expectation that the STAR curriculum will utilize knowledge developed locally but that we will help students advance that knowledge and share it with the community.
One obvious way of demonstrating our honoring of our place is by providing students with the opportunity to learn the Navajo language and culture. The school’s foundational values have a Dine’ cultural base. The school’s focus on relationships comes out of the core concept of K’e, which is acknowledgement of the form our relationship with one another. We are told by wise people in our community that K’e extends out even to the stars. This is the basis of our approach to discipline at the STAR School. All students are expected to know their four clans and to be able to introduce themselves in Navajo to anyone. Even non-Navajo students and staff are expected to learn basic Navajo words and phrases. Teachers are also expected to weave into the literature program Native Literature books written from the point of view of indigenous authors. These books should then be discussed in light of the 4 R’s and other relevant teachings for what it takes to be a whole human being. The STAR Peacemaking model, which is to be used throughout the school, and with staff as well as students as an alternative to the standard disciplinary procedures, is based on the traditional Peacemaking approach handed down for generations of Navajo families for resolving conflicts. This is often used in a simplified form to resolve minor disputes among students, but it is also used in more complicated situations that might otherwise result in suspension or expulsion of students. All staff are encouraged to be familiar with a short form of Peacemaking and to utilize it when dealing with disputes among students.
Being Green and in Harmony with our Environment
In 2012, The STAR School was awarded the U.S. Department of Education’s Green Ribbon Award for being an outstanding example of the three pillars of being green: 1) a healthy and safe environment , 2) Reducing costs, reducing water and energy requirements and reducing waste through various environmentally friendly design elements in the school, and 3) Integrating environmentally aware approaches into the school curriculum.
- For the safe and healthy school environment, the STAR School is committed to utilizing recyclable products whenever possible, utilizing environmentally friendly materials for cleaning whenever possible, and checking for good air quality, low noise levels from machinery, more structured exercise, and maximum involvement of students in outside environments during free time. In addition, The STAR School is committed to providing fresh vegetables in the school breakfast and lunch program, as much as possible from local farms and gardens, and involving students in the preparation of food so that they will try eating various vegetables and locally grown sheep.
- The water and energy requirements of the STAR School had to be severely reduced at the very beginning because the school was built 10 miles from the nearest utility lines, so it had to be supported by an off grid solar system and hauled in water. In order to get by, everyone had to pay attention to how these precious resources were being used. If not, we might run out of power or water and have to send students home. The school eventually got its own well and adequate solar supply, but it is clear that in order to be more self-sufficient, we must be aware of ways we can reduce our need for more resources than we have. We also use water runoff from buildings to help water plants.
- At the STAR School, it is expected that each class will develop year-long projects that show students how they can help the environment and give them opportunities to actively do things that are helpful to the school and community environment. It is expected that the lessons associated with these projects will be integrated into the academic learning and meeting of core standards in each grade. Every department in the school is also expected to have its own ways of showing how it is caring for the environment. For example, buses will not sit with the motor idling when waiting to board children at the end of the school day and the cafeteria will actively work with students to promote composting of vegetable wastes from breakfasts and lunches.
In summary, these five core values define our school character. The Governing Board will do our best to further these values in our school by guiding the leaders of the school in these values, by hiring and retaining staff who align with these values, and by encouraging the expression of these values throughout the activities of STAR School through the focusing of the school’s resources.