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Even the name has special meaning at Renaissance Village Academy.
“We want to create and nurture ‘Renaissance’ men and women, citizens who understand the world around them in all its glory and diversity – the natural world, the social world, and the political world,” said Nancy Retter, RVA Director and Principal Teacher. “The best way to help children grow and learn is to create a sense of community where we all look out for one another, hence a ‘Village’. Finally, the name ‘Academy’ takes its inspiration from Plato’s Academy in Athens, where Plato taught his followers to think using the Socratic Method. Because knowledge without thought is just information, children must learn how to think about what they’ve learned, how to judge the accuracy/biases of their sources, and how to weigh conflicting information to form their own conclusions.”
A private school designed to meet the needs of gifted (top 2 percent), profoundly gifted (top 0.1 percent), and highly motivated students, RVA gets kids interested again in learning.
“We get kids excited…,” Retter said. “Often gifted students find learning easy. With little effort they can get the top grades. So they develop the idea, at a subconscious level, that any assignment or project requiring mental effort on their part isn’t worth doing.”
Retter said RVA counters that situation. “We don’t teach at students, we talk to them. Learning and teaching should be a conversation, not a lecture,” she said. “It’s a shared experience of exploration and discovery. The teacher must discover where each child is in relation to the standards and expectations in order to lead them to discovering all they can truly accomplish.”
Founded in March 2010, RVA is a full-time program for 4th – 8th grade, though a younger child reading at the 4th grade level can be considered. It covers all of the traditional subjects in education: Reading, mathematics, history, science, physical education, and others. Courses include drama, music, and foreign language. Math placement and pacing are based on each child’s needs. History, social studies, and science begin with the California state standards, but move beyond them to emphasize critical thinking, hands-on activities, analysis, and writing. English includes literature, morphology (Greek and Latin roots), syntax, debate, and writing.
“Our students gain from exceptional circumstances and opportunities every single day. And one of the differences our students consistently mention is that they’re not bored,” said Retter. “High expectations are the norm. Self-esteem is built through actual achievement.”
A highly experienced teacher with multiple credentials, Retter graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Russian Civilization) from University of California Irvine. She completed the Credential Program at San Diego State University and received her Masters of Arts in Teaching at National University in 2003.
Retter’s overall teaching philosophy is exemplified by what she describes as the four elements that define the best experiences in education:
“Public schools generally offer none of these (though exceptions can happen). Private schools have an advantage in setting their own environments, but the rest is still a matter of chance,” Retter said. “At RVA, all the elements are present. “
Retter also noted RVA takes parent involvement in school operations a step further than public schools. For example, before the start of each school year, parents are surveyed on start and end times for the school days. “(And) our schedule is designed to help meet the needs of working parents,” she said, which includes creative scheduling and limiting homework assignments usually to reading and meaningful review.
Both physical education and foreign language training is a significant part of the RVA experience. Sensei Alan Fitzgerald of Z-Ultimate Self Defense Studios in Carmel Mountain teaches students three days a week – and all 5th Graders choose a language to learn (choices include: Russian, Latin, German, Chinese or Japanese). A second foreign language is later added for students.
But the true RVA learning experience comes from the quality of the teaching, as developed by Retter:
“I founded Renaissance Village Academy because I’m passionately devoted to meeting the needs of gifted, profoundly gifted, and highly-motivated students. I wrote my first paper on the importance of specialized programs for gifted students when I was 15, following a family tradition of teaching,” she said, noting her years working in local schools with GATE and other programs firsthand. “These experiences inform my philosophy towards homework – less is more. Just because children are gifted doesn’t mean they need to do twice as much work as others. The quality of assignments is of greater importance than the quantity thereof.”
by LORI LUM Special to 92129 Magazine
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