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Santa Lucia School maintains its holistic learning traditions after founder retires 

Learn by being

Peace education, art, and outdoor time are creatively woven into the curriculum at the Santa Lucia School in Templeton. For more than 30 years, the independent, holistic school has educated children from first through eighth grade with a "learn at your own pace" philosophy based on the ideals of Montessori and Waldorf schools.

"Santa Lucia is in some ways, for a teacher, an ideal place to be," according to Shirley Magnusson, the school's new director and elementary teacher.

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The school has been in transition since the retirement of founder Jan Thompquist two years ago, which has brought about some challenges for Magnusson, including finding new staff members to fit the program and finding a place for herself in the pre-established environment. However, with one year of directing under her belt, and a strong team at her side, Magnusson said she feels settled in now and is excited by the possibilities that lie ahead.

"All organizations have their own culture, and that is really important [to honor]," she said.

Magnusson and the team at Santa Lucia are committed to keeping the legacy and environment of the last 30 years authentic. Traditions like outdoor lessons at the creek allow students to stay in touch with nature, while hands-on art projects—like working with clay fired in the school's kiln—can be used for representing ideas and creative expression.

click to enlarge FOOD AND FUN Santa Lucia School students enjoy their lunch and play outside. - PHOTO COURTESY OF STACY BURK
  • Photo Courtesy Of Stacy Burk
  • FOOD AND FUN Santa Lucia School students enjoy their lunch and play outside.

For kids who may struggle in public school, Santa Lucia provides a place where everyone is accepted for their uniqueness, and their differences are nurtured, Magnusson said. Good communication skills are also taught for peaceful conflict resolution.

"We can focus on being good thinkers, which for the lifetime is a very good thing to do," she said.

Each classroom combines two to three grades, which enables kids to revisit subjects if necessary, while also allowing students to work ahead if they choose. Because of the multi-age classrooms and the small size of the school (around 48 students), there are opportunities for kids of all ages interact. These friendships, along with a four-day school week, create a learning environment that is very different than public school, which, Magnusson said, is part of what makes Santa Lucia such an amazing place.

"I can tell you as someone who has focused on science education in particular, I can't defend the full set of standards that exist for any particular grade level," Magnusson said. "We can be selective about our emphases [at Santa Lucia], working with big ideas that are important for anybody to build deep understandings."

Throughout her first year as director, she said, she carefully observed things to get the whole story of the school, checking in with the parents and teachers, making sure she got things right.

click to enlarge WAKE UP Santa Lucia School primary students sing in morning circle. - PHOTO COURTESY OF STACY BURK
  • Photo Courtesy Of Stacy Burk
  • WAKE UP Santa Lucia School primary students sing in morning circle.

"Our board consists of parents, some of whom are currently a part of the community at the school—their own children are at the school right now," Magnusson said. "In other cases, they're parents whose children have gone on to other places, but they are still really committed to the school's concept and willing to put their time into nurturing the school. So there is a lot of history there and knowledge of the school's culture."

Their deep knowledge of the history and priorities of the school is something Magnusson has relied on in moving the school forward.

She will be teaching in the intermediate class (fourth through sixth grade) this year. She feels that her extensive background as a teacher, and the addition of a very experienced teacher in the primary classroom (first through third) will enhance the learning opportunities in those classrooms tremendously, especially since teachers at Santa Lucia design their own curriculums.

"We are supporting the development of human beings," Magnusson said. "And 'being' is part of that phrase. I think we sometimes forget about that." Δ

Reach New Times intern Delany Burk through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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