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Magnet School Helps Students Develop, Appreciate Different Talents

An elementary magnet school built on the campus of the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Connecticut, is striving to educate a diverse student body, using the multiple intelligences theories of psychologist Howard Gardner. Although admitting the school is "under a microscope" to see whether it will succeed, Principal Cheryl Kloczko is committed to the school's missions. Included: Ways of applying multiple intelligences theories in classrooms.


Jumping rope is not just for recess anymore.

At the University of Hartford Magnet School (UHMS) in West Hartford, Connecticut, jumping rope is a multi-purpose lesson, teaching students to use athletic, musical, and interpersonal skills.

Jumping rope, like most activities at the school, is designed to teach students that all abilities -- whether they're related to art, mathematics, athletics, or interpersonal interactions -- are important and interrelated.

The magnet school, which opened in September 2001, brings together students from seven diverse communities -- the city of Hartford and the surrounding suburban towns of Avon, Bloomfield, Farmington, Simsbury, West Hartford, and Wethersfield -- and teaches them according to the multiple intelligences theories of Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner.

Although more than 100 schools in the country apply multiple intelligences theories to student learning, UHMS is the first school in the country with a curriculum designed exclusively around Gardner's ideas and located in a building constructed to accommodate that approach. It's also the first public school built on the campus of a private university.

A TOTAL EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE

In its first year of operation, UHMS enrolled pre-K through third grade students; eventually, the school will accommodate students through fifth grade. About 1,400 students applied for the opening year's 266 K-3 slots and the school had a waiting list. Each participating town is allowed to send a certain number of students. Half the school's students, all of whom were selected by lottery, are from Hartford.

The school offers an extended day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and day care is available before and after school on a sliding-scale fee basis. A Family and Wellness Center provides support programs for parents and families.

"We hope UHMS will become a national model," principal Cheryl Kloczko says about her school. "If we can create quality education for a diverse population, we'll have made it. And if you can do it here, you can do it anywhere."

WHICH INTELLIGENCES ARE YOU USING?

The school's primary goal is to introduce students to Gardner's intelligences so they appreciate all the intelligences, learn their own strengths, and develop those strengths in conjunction with the other intelligences.


Students at the University of Hartford Magnet School are encouraged to identify their strongest intelligence and to appreciate others' strengths. (Education World Photo)

Gardner theorizes that the eight kinds of human intelligences are
  • Linguistic: sensitivity to the meaning and order of words.
  • Logical-mathematical: ability in mathematics and other complex logical systems.
  • Musical: ability to understand and create music.
  • Spatial-visual: ability to "think in pictures," to perceive the visual world accurately, and to re-create (or alter) it in the mind or on paper.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic: ability to use one's body in a skilled way, for self-expression or to achieve a goal.
  • Interpersonal: ability to perceive and understand other individuals -- their moods, desires, and motivations.
  • Intrapersonal: understanding of one's own emotions. Some novelists and or counselors use their own experience to guide others.
  • Naturalist: ability to recognize and classify plants, rocks, and animals.
(See the Education World story Multiple Intelligences: A Theory for Everyone.

Students at UHMS spend about 30 minutes a day studying mathematics; two and a half hours working on verbal language skills, which include reading, writing, and social studies; and 45 minutes every other day studying musical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and interpersonal/intrapersonal intelligences.

Students have adapted quickly to the multiple intelligences language, according to Kloczko. "I had a parent tell me her child came home and said 'I was people-smart today.' "

"Children are seeing that to do something, you need multiple intelligences," Kloczko adds. "You never use an intelligence in isolation. If you can recognize an intelligence in yourself and others, this leads to mutual respect. If kids can understand there are many ways to be smart, they can be more confident learners. And when they identify their own strengths, they build self-confidence."

DUAL MISSIONS

The school's second mission is to serve a diverse population. The multiple intelligences school is one of the magnet elementary schools in the state created in response to a Connecticut court ruling. In the case of Sheff v. O'Neill, the parent of a student in Hartford's urban school district sued the state, claiming that her child's education was inferior to that of students in non-urban areas. As a result, the state now is under a court order to voluntarily reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation among all students. The court was not specific, however, about how the state should go about it, according to Dr. Bruce Douglas, executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), which manages the magnet schools and provides services to school district in the Hartford region. "The two goals are simply quality education in a diverse environment," Douglas says.

To meet those goals, a committee made up of members of the participating school districts and the University of Hartford developed the plan for the magnet school.

Faculty members from the University of Hartford remain active in the school's day-to-day operations. "This is a 'died-and-went-to-heaven-type' of opportunity," says Regina Miller, chairwoman of the University of Hartford's division of education. "Some of us here worked very hard to see this [school] happen. We believe in the value of this for the university. We felt the university's division of education had something to contribute to the Hartford community. It's also ideal for our students. It's a win-win situation."

Jasmine, seven, a very articulate second-grader from Hartford, says she wanted to attend the school "so I could learn more and make new friends. I have lots of friends from all over the place."

"It's a very exciting school; parents and teachers have quickly coalesced around the magnet," Douglas adds. "It's certainly how all children should be taught; all good schools are using elements of Howard Gardner's approach."

APPLYING MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES


"Smart boards" allow teachers to use lessons from the Internet with the entire class. (Education World photo)

As a way of applying Gardner's theories, the multiple intelligences are incorporated into classroom lessons. Teachers at the magnet school trained intensively in Gardner's theories over the summer. "The real difference is in how instruction is presented and how students are assessed," Kloczko says. "[Students] can show in different ways how they have learned something." A child who cannot identify a letter on a board may be able to form it with his or her body, Kloczko notes.

Pupils studied Thanksgiving, for example, from an interpersonal angle, exploring how the Pilgrims needed support from others to survive. Science lessons are incorporated into the naturalist intelligence program. School staff also emphasize technology, but it is so deeply integrated into the curriculum that the school does not have a separate computer room. Teachers, for example, can project Internet pages from a laptop onto interactive whiteboards (often called "smart boards"), then manipulate the information by touching the whiteboard screen, just as they could manipulate it using a mouse.

The existence in traditional schools of subjects called "specials" was an incentive for art teacher Elizabeth Crowell to make the move to the magnet school.

"Here, visual-spatial learning is integrated into the classroom. Every other day, [kids] have 45 minutes of visual-spatial instruction. It's not just a frill -- it's as important as every other intelligence," Crowell tells Education World. "I believe in multiple intelligences; it was very apparent in kids I taught at other schools. Some kids excelled in art but not in other areas. Here, we use multiple intelligences to get through to them." For one project, second graders made squares for a quilt illustrating three of the intelligences.


Music class activities help students develop interpersonal and bodily-kinesthetic skills. (Education World photo)

On the day that Education World visited the school, students in a musical intelligences class formed a circle with teacher Lillie Feierabend, sang, clapped hands, jumped forward and backward, and composed lyrics for the song, utilizing music, bodily-kinesthetic, language, and interpersonal skills. In a large open room called the agora (the Greek word for marketplace), another group of second graders and kindergartners worked in groups in a rope-jumping game.

Staff also want to help children learn to make good choices and take responsibility for their actions, Kloczko says. To encourage that, tables in the rear of classrooms provide a place for students to go to talk through problems. Each classroom also has a chair set aside, which teachers call "Australia," for students who need some time to sit and collect themselves.

FITTING IN

Several students -- and a teacher-- say the school's learning style and atmosphere helped them to feel more accepted than they had in their former schools; only two and a half months into the school year, students could identify their strongest intelligences.

Elise, eight, a third-grader from Hartford, says she wanted to go to the magnet school because "My other school wasn't a nice school -- people really weren't nice to me." She says it's easier to learn at the magnet school because "other kids want to learn too."

Elise adds that she has discovered that her "true intelligence" is naturalist -- although she likes visual-spatial as well and wants to combine the two areas. "I would like to be someone who sketches landscapes."

Nine-year-old Christian, a third-grader from suburban West Hartford, also says he likes visual-spatial activities best and that he enjoys school more now than in the past. "I was having a tough year at the old school last year -- this year is going better for me so far."

Second-grade teacher Laura Wonderlie says she had used some of the multiple intelligences ideas in her former school and wanted to work with other people of the same mindset. "I wanted to be with colleagues who are highly motivated and do what's best for kids," Wonderlie tells Education World. "There's a lot more flexibility here in meeting kids' needs. In my previous school, I was an oddity, using thematic approaches. Here, everyone understands the same approach."

FACULTY, UNIVERSITY SUPPORT

Time for teachers to collaborate is built into the school day. Teachers meet a minimum of three times a week to discuss students and issues, and staff development programs are offered once a month. Each teacher also has a small office adjacent to his or her classroom, with a desk, printer, scanner, and phone.

"Our biggest resource is one another," Michael Seal, a second-grade teacher, says. "It's about thinking out of the box; everything we do is reflected on and adjusted immediately. We really get time to plan and adjustTeachers can do what research has been saying [they should be doing] for a long time ."

"This is one of the most powerful groups of teachers I have been around, in terms of teaching skills, ability, intelligence, commitment to mission, and love of children," CREC's Douglas says.

University of Hartford staff and students also provide extensive support and resources. Students from the university student teach and volunteer at the school. Magnet school teachers serve as adjunct professors in the University of Hartford's division of education, and they can attend professional development programs at the university as well. Cultural programs hosted by the university often are shared with the school.

"We have been embraced," by the university, says Kloczko.

Miller, the education division's chairwoman, serves on the magnet school's principal's advisory committee and works weekly with the school's pre-school teachers.

First-graders have been pen pals with students in a university class on teaching reading for education majors. The college students are able to see how children process language and learn to read and write, says Kloczko.

A COMMUNITY OF RISK-TAKERS

Although Kloczko and staff members say they are pleased with the school's operation so far, Kloczko admits that a certain perspective is needed among parents and staff.

"We had several parent meetings in other districts before the school opened, and we didn't even have a building to show them," Kloczko says. "We got the certificate of occupancy two days before school opened. At the parent meetings, I said we have two things in common -- we all [parents and teachers] are risk-takers and we all applied to be here. After that, some parents pulled their applications. They decided they did not want to take risks with their children's education."

For her part, Kloczko, who was selected from among 28 applicants for the principal's job, says she sought the position because "I liked everything about the school and I wanted a change."

Still, the staff feels pressured to prove that the multiple intelligences approach is effective, not only to the state but also to the participating school districts. "We are under a microscope to see how we perform," Kloczko says. "We have to report back to school districts that students made a year's growth in a year's time." Summer school will be required for those students not performing at grade level at the end of the term, she adds.

Some more-formal learning will need to occur in fourth and fifth grades, Kloczko adds. Students in fourth grade are required to take Connecticut Mastery Tests, state proficiency tests, in reading, writing, and mathematics. The tests are used not only to review student performance but that of the school and district as well.

Despite the pressure, however, the school's founders are confident about their mission. "I think it is how every child should learn," the University of Hartford's Miller says. "For too long, we have stifled children who learn in other ways. These children can learn if given multiple opportunities."


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