Optimal Learning Environments to Promote Student Engagement

Part of the series Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development pp 219-246


Models of Engaging Private Schools and the Case of Montessori Schools

  • David J. ShernoffAffiliated withDepartment of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations College of Education, Northern Illinois University

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In this chapter, three private school models with empirical support for engaging youth are presented and discussed: Montessori schools; Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Colorado; and the planned Arete School in San Rafael, California. Montessori philosophy is built around reverence for the child. In contrast to public schools, Maria Montessori believed that mental development was dependent on movement, and that overall development was dependent on autonomous actions and the cultivation of interests in the world. Rathunde and Csikszentmihalyi’s studies using the experience sampling method found that students in Montessori high schools were significantly more engaged, reporting more positive experiences at school and perceiving their classmates to be friends to a greater extent, than a matched sample of students in traditional public high schools. The Eagle Rock School provides another compelling private school example of engaging students, who, before entering the Eagle Rock, had experienced only failure in school. The culture of the school revolves around the foundational values of a learning environment rather than a testing environment, nurturing relationships, principles rather than rules, and democratic life. Individual testimonies suggest that even the hardest to engage at the time of admission became deeply immersed and committed at Eagle Rock. The planned Arete School in San Rafael, CA, seeks to infuse the entire schooling experience with positive aspects of sports culture. The Arete Schools is based on a program piloted in public schools that was found to meet exceeded standards for motivation and learning established by learner-centered models of excellence.