Students at the Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School will receive a more balanced education during the new school's second year thanks to a new teaching format adopted by the staff.

Last year, students studied all the core subjects established by the state, but they did so on an intermittent basis. For example, instead of studying all the core subject areas simultaneously and year-round, a student might have taken English and history during the first trimester, math and a language during the second and science during the third.

The charter school faculty and administration decided that students will benefit from touching each of the five disciplines on a daily basis. Consequently, this year students will devote every morning to study of the five core subject areas. The courses will be organized along broader thematic lines, such as creative writing and social studies, rather than the traditional English, math, science, history and languages. Faculty try to integrate the arts into all the course areas, and both arts and health studies are part of the electives offered in the afternoon.

"This is a big difference between this year and last year," said Ursula Ferro, the director. "Last year we were exploring different ways of giving students options and meeting state requirements. But they didn't have the balanced experience. One of the things the school is discovering is how to provide a rich and responsible educational experience for students and still build in an element of choice for them."

Mrs. Ferro emphasized that students still have a multitude of choices to make regarding their education. If an older student wants to do an intensive mathematical study one trimester and an in-depth analysis of Shakespearian plays another, for example, it can be arranged, she said. And since the faculty has determined what electives will be offered all three trimesters, a student facing a scheduling conflict can choose one course knowing there will be an opportunity to take the other later. Last year they couldn't do that because the charter school didn't know what it would be offering from one trimester to the next.

Another opportunity students will have to be self-directed learners is during the school's two to three week intensive project periods, which were very successful last year, said Mrs. Ferro. In March, and at the end of the school year, students will become completely immersed in projects they design themselves, which could involve research, going out into the community or learning an activity.

The school is trying to teach students that there is an element of responsibility that comes with making choices, said Mrs. Ferro.

"If you make a choice, you have a responsibility to carry it through. Another aspect of choice is that if you chose one thing, you can't go and chose another at the same time."

The charter school is pleased to be offering both French and Spanish studies this year. It's extremely unusual for such a small school to have the ability to offer more than one language so early after its inception.

Faculty members are also proud to introduce a plan for a new three year area of curriculum study integrating civilization studies and the language arts. Each year, charter school faculty will teach a different thread of world history and civilization, focusing on the Americas one year and Euro-Asia or Africa the next. By the time students have completed the three year curriculum they will have received a comprehensive picture of global civilization.
"The idea of having a three year plan where there's that overview and where what you plan one year is tied in with the other two years is very exciting to the staff," said Mrs. Ferro.

Mrs. Ferro is eagerly anticipating her first year as the charter school director. Her main task will be supporting the teachers so that they can continue to create and develop new courses for the school and balance their teaching responsibilities.

"The primary goal that I have is to support the staff, the teachers, the children and the parents in implementing their goals. I want to support the mission of the charter but I don't want to come in and impose my ideas of what the school should be."

Part of the charter school's mission is to include parents in the educational process. Parents will have an opportunity to give teachers their views at Back to School Night. Teachers will receive parents of students in the 13 to 16 year old range Sept. 22, parents of youngsters ranging from 8 to 10 years Sept. 24, and parents of students ages 10 to 13 Oct. 6 — all from 7 to 8:30 p.m.