“I want these kids to love coming here,” Dr. Kendra Thornton says.
We’re wandering the halls of Summit Country Day’s Lower School, and it’s clear Dr. Thornton’s already having a great impact. Kids come up and hug her. Walls are neon green. LEGOs are the newest part of the curriculum. It’s inspiring — I want to go here!
Dr. Thornton has only been the Lower School Director since August. Prior to that, she was the school’s Guidance Counselor, a position she held while pursuing her Doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. In May, she defended her thesis in Doctorate in Education (Ed.D) in Mind, Brain and Teaching. In case you’re wondering, this degree explores the intersection of science and education, as Dr. Thornton explains:
“Basic neuroscience, such as understanding the impact of stress on the frontal cortex, is useful to teachers. Impairment can impede learning by negatively affecting reasoning, problem solving, and social judgment which would present hurdles in a classroom. We know that neuroscience has the potential to improve education, but finding a way to incorporate the research into classroom practice is a challenge.”
Sign your toddlers up for Summit’s IGKnight Music and Movement classes!
Dr. Thornton has taken it upon herself to incorporate this research into the classroom. As Lower School Director, she has the ability to affect top-to-bottom change, a responsibility she readily accepts. She’s fresh from a rigorous doctorate program, and is ready to share and implement what she’s learned.
“I have to pace myself,” she jokes, “one idea at a time! I feel like a bottle of champagne that’s been shaken up; I have so many ideas.”
At the heart of Dr. Thornton’s educational philosophy are the 4 C’s: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. “Students need 21st century skills,” she says.
“Our economy is transitioning from one built on manufactured goods to an economy based on information and ideas. Rapid evolution of technology means our future workforce will increasingly need innovators and collaborators,” she explains. “Creativity empowers divergent thinkers to diversely apply knowledge and seek novel solutions to problems. We encourage innovative thinking and creativity when we offer children opportunities to take risks in a safe environment.”
Already, it’s clear she’s having an effect.
The Collaboratory’s bright green walls (“green is thought to fuel creativity; whether or not that’s true, it’s at least a fun color!”) depict a female student (“STEAM’s not just for boys!”). Student work spaces are clustered into “collaborative hubs” to foster community and communication. Students are encouraged to “try anything — there are no wrong answers, even if they come up at a dead end.”
Down the hall, Dr. Thornton shows me the brand-new addition to the curriculum at the Lower School: a mobile LEGO Learning Lab. Not only are students encouraged to play with the colorful blocks; instructors are also incorporating LEGOs into classroom labs and even alternative assessments. “Having a student demonstrate a concept (with LEGOs) gives teachers a much better sense of what the student actually knows,” she explains.
In fact, LEGOs are part of Dr. Thornton’s new Mindfulness Initiative: all fourth graders have an entire period of the day dedicated to fostering and cultivating personal awareness and growth. Students can choose from four modules: meditation, yoga, dance or physical/spatial skills. “Being able to make a mind-body connection and regulate strong emotions are life skills that benefit everyone. When one can limit distracting thoughts, working memory improves.”
Translation? Better test scores.
But it’s not really about test scores for Dr. Thornton; it’s about making school a place kids want to be. “These kids have a lot of years of school ahead of them,” she says, “It’s important that we foster their creativity and growth as individuals.”
It’s working. “Visitors often comment on the positive energy they feel in our building,” muses Dr. Thornton. “The students are happy to be here and eager to start each day. The enthusiasm is fueled by teachers who love their students and are tireless in their efforts to instill a life-long love of learning.”
This Lower School Director’s enthusiasm is palpable: as I left Summit that gorgeous fall afternoon, I felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm about my own kids’ education. And, with school directors like Dr. Kendra Thonton working with our children and educators, an abundance of hope for the future.
The Summit Country Day School is located at 2161 Grandin Road, Cincinnati, OH 45208. For more information, please visit www.summitcds.org.