The Knox School's guiding philosophy comes from the idea that learning is optimized when (1) the individual feels safe, appreciated, and supported, (2) when the environment recognizes and respects both gifts and differences, and (3) when the curriculum is relevant and meaningful.
We have a responsibility to provide optimal educational experiences for talents to flourish in as many children as possible, for the benefit of the individual and the community. The Knox School of Santa Barbara is committed to providing a student-centered, talent- and strength-based model to optimize each student's intellectual, academic, social and emotional development. We recognize the uniqueness of each child and are committed to the preservation and development of that individuality. The staff is committed to fostering self-awareness and self-understanding within each student so that they learn to self-advocate and become the principal architects of their lives.
The emotional sensitivities often displayed by gifted children cannot be overlooked, nor the importance of recognizing and understanding these emotional needs minimized. To neglect these areas is to limit students in the development of their full human potential. The first step in meeting the affective needs of gifted children is building awareness and understanding of these needs, on the part of both the students themselves, as well as those who guide them. This self-awareness is critical for the individual to better advocate for themselves and cope with the stressors inherent to life.
Teachers conversant with this population’s characteristics can provide an emotionally safe haven where both strengths and weaknesses are understood and respected, and it is safe for students to discover and reveal who they really are. Only as these needs are met will gifted learners be able to develop to the highest levels of their academic and intellectual potential.
We believe that surrounding a gifted child with a community of his/her peers strengthens and supports the child’s development. The gifted child can often feel isolated in the traditional classroom, where he/she may be resented or inhibited from developing his or her learning potential. One of the main benefits of programs that group gifted children together is the opportunity for varied and satisfying friendships to emerge, enhancing the children’s social spheres. In clinical interviews and interest surveys, gifted children and adolescents speak openly of their need to be with other students who share their interests and abilities and the strain of minimizing or hiding their talents in order to fit in or protect the feelings of others.
There exists a concern that grouping gifted children will cause them to be elitist. It has been shown that in actuality more elitism is fostered by keeping gifted children with their non-gifted age-mates than by grouping them with one another. Gifted children can get a warped idea of their place in the world when they are consistently the best performers. For many students, placement in classes for the gifted is the first time they encounter peers as capable as themselves. They soon learn that there will always be someone better than they in some areas; this breeds humility, not arrogance.
THE ENVIRONMENT (CLASSROOM)
The current emphasis on standardized testing and rote learning and the ways in which this emphasis plays out, unfortunately, encroaches upon many students' enjoyment of school life. The truth is that when we eliminate joy and comfort from the classroom, we rob our students of effective learning and long-term memory storage. Instead of taking pleasure from learning, students become anxious, bored, and anything but engaged. They ultimately learn to dread school and lose the joy of learning they once felt making their school experience limiting, non-productive, and frustrating. The ingrained belief system of “school is a waste of my time” is difficult to extract.
Current brain-based research (neurobiological and neuroimaging studies) give us visible evidence that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are enjoyable and relevant to students' lives and interests and when students’ learning happens in an atmosphere of trust and positive feelings. When teachers use strategies to minimize stress and anxiety and build a psychologically safe environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently.
In their book “12 Brain/Mind Learning Principles in Action” (Caine, Caine, McClintic, and Klimek), the authors argue that emotional climate is critical to learning and discuss aspects that help create an enriched environment. One such requirement is a state of relaxed alertness, where there is low perceived threat, and high challenge. When there is perceived stress, the brain goes into flight or fight reaction and the higher order brain functions shut down. By contrast, placement in an affectively and cognitively supportive educational environment where the individual needs of gifted learners are met allows these children to develop to the highest levels of their potential in all realms. The Knox School creates a classroom environment which is stimulating yet nurturing and supportive, the necessary atmosphere for optimal learning.