The journey that children take through the PMFS program is filled with both small, meaningful moments and momentous milestones. There are numerous traditions that students consider to be “uniquely Plymouth,” those central experiences that build for children as they anticipate them, learn through them, and reflect back on them, often for many years. Middle School alumni continue to ride the unicycles they learned for the circus. High school and college age alumni return for the Thanksgiving Program and join easily in singing the school song. Adult alumni keep in touch with their Mexican “buddies” from the Mexican Exchange Program.
Beyond the anticipation and the remarkable memories, what do our students gain from these collaborative projects? They develop confidence, understand the power of working together, and experience the satisfaction of hard work that pays off through sustained effort and attention. They gain a sense of their capacities in ways that give them the courage to stretch themselves and take risks to learn and grow. They learn how to bring their best to both their individual work and a group goal, whether it’s reading a book with their reading buddy, organizing a school-wide collection of supplies for refugee families, or sharing their designs and prototypes at the “Invention Convention.” Each year at PMFS holds anticipation and accomplishment, as students are proud to reach touchpoints that once seemed beyond their reach. They excitedly grow into these central experiences, support one another in their place in the journey, and leave a trail for those who follow.
Reading Buddies – Each Kindergartner is partnered with a Fifth Grader. As they meet weekly with Fifth Graders to read books, Kindergartners feel part of a bigger community and Fifth Graders get to become mentors. The relationship is fostered throughout the year by writing letters to each other, a shared field trip, small presents for one another, and more.
Baking Class – Measuring, mixing, tasting, and sharing can be witnessed every Friday in the Kindergarten classroom! Students treasure their cooking abilities and their recipes, compiled in the Kindergarten cookbook for many years.
In its first year of a new, single grade structure, the 2017/18 First Grade is creating memories and trends!
Reading Buddies – Each First Grader has a Sixth Grade buddy, so that this group of emergent readers can read or be read to in a nurturing space.
Day-long field trip – First Grade will take an extended day-long trip in the Spring, an appropriate level of independence for this group of students, providing a chance to celebrate their year while also gaining experience in preparation for an overnight trip in Second Grade.
Service Learning Project – Arising out of a central theme of study, students look forward to bringing learning to life and seeing how they can make a difference. A recent example included organizing, promoting, and tallying a school-wide collection of supplies for local refugee families to be distributed through Naranj Tree organization in Norristown.
Overnight Camping Trip at Camp Laughing Waters (two-day trip) – Students plan every aspect of this adventure, from what they eat to what they play and where they hike, in this fun way to practice all that students have learned about living in community. Students and teachers sleep in a cabin.
International Luncheon – The culmination of a family heritage research project, this luncheon is attended by students and their families. Some Third Graders come dressed in their family’s traditional clothing. Students not only prepare and share a family recipe, they also present family stories to the luncheon guests, in this first formal speaking presentation.
Ocean Animal Project – After in-depth research on an ocean animal, students write an original story that creatively incorporates facts they have learned. They then illustrate, publish, and perform readings of the hard-copy book of their creation to their class and to younger classes on campus.
Invention Convention – Using Design Thinking strategies, students collaborate to design, and create something that assists with a perceived need. Students display and explain their creations with visiting classes at PMFS and with peers in a lively three-school science convention.
Chincoteague Bay Field Station Trip – (three-day experience) Under the guidance of their teachers and expert CBFS staff, students get unparalleled experience studying the ecosystems of barrier islands, including lab time and marsh walks.
Mold Symposium – Students use the scientific method to carefully design and conduct a one-variable experiment involving how mold grows on food. They create boards to share their hypotheses and conclusions in a semi-formal scientific symposium of four local Quaker schools. Designing an original “Mold T-shirt” and creating a “Mold Song” for this forum create a full STEAM experience.
The Circus! – At three performances in March, students put on a polished show for a packed house, complete with unicycling, juggling, skits, songs, wire walking, and trapeze (and more!). Many months of physical preparation are obvious, but equally important is the collaboration and planning that have gone into students’ writing the various skits, imagining the set, and breaking down physical challenges into manageable pieces.
“All the children, teachers, and parents have come together for a common goal and they celebrate each other’s role in the circus. Isn’t this one of the best metaphors we could hope for our children to learn in life–each person working hard to be their best selves, supporting one another in our individual pursuits as part of a collective, cooperative process of the common goal called life.” – Parent Sue T.
Washington DC Trip (four-day experience) – Students explore monuments, parks, and museums and bring all their learning about U.S. history to life. Fourth Graders experience guided independence, choosing foods and learning how to tip and budget their cash. Staying in a Quaker “hostel”, students have time to reflect on their experiences daily.
Compost Stewardship – Fifth Grade students are responsible for all aspects of the school-wide composting program, now in its second year at PMFS. Students prepare and deliver lessons in composting for each class at PMFS, manage each class’ compost, and maintain the compost bin at the school. Students not only evaluate and adapt ecological concepts of decomposers, they concurrently live the Quaker testimony of stewardship of their environment.
Mexican Exchange Program (two weeks hosting, two weeks in Mexico) – PMFS Fifth Graders participate in intercultural exchange program with students from Colegio Williams de Cuernavaca in Cuernavaca, Mexico; the program is now in its 48th year. Students from both schools take turns as they travel to another country, live with a host family, and are immersed in life in another culture for two weeks, forging lifelong connections and understanding of similarities and differences. Unusual for this age group, this fifth grade program successfully challenges children to view themselves and the world differently and forever changes them as a result. As guests, students learn to view and celebrate differences, find similarities, and differentiate trends versus isolated happenings. As hosts too, students are guided to identify and develop skills, such as empathy and putting someone else’s needs first. The PMFS program prepares students for this exchange in a variety of ways throughout their years, from Spanish classes that steadily increase a child’s communicative abilities, to art classes that celebrate Mexican culture, to an intentional series of overnights.
Egg Drop – The culmination of a self-directed project encouraging design and problem-solving skills, the annual egg drop challenges students to work within given parameters to test their knowledge of force and velocity. The whole school comes out to see the Sixth Graders test their contraptions on a clear Spring day.
Sixth Grade Musical – Collaborating with peers and adults, students learn to constructively critique themselves and others through an experience that is both process and product driven. The full-scale musical showcases students’ growth, training, and achievement in both theatrical and musical arts, giving Sixth Graders opportunities in acting, singing and dancing, as well as in collaborative set and costume design, stage, and props management.
Trips to Echo Hill Outdoor School (fall two-day trip; four-day stay at the end of the school year) – Bookending the Sixth Grade experience, stays at Echo Hill provide a framework of community, challenge,and reflection for the class. Students build leadership skills and trust through a series of cooperative challenges. At the beginning of the year, students are primed to become leaders of the PMFS community, and at the end of the year, they are guided to reflect on their growth in community and consider how future adventures will continue to shape them.
“In a way, that’s what Plymouth is trying to teach us: that the strongest communities are made up of individuals who know themselves and are not afraid to show it.” — Haven, `15
Graduation – At Plymouth, each Sixth Grader is the graduation speaker—their final writing project at PMFS is to create and deliver a speech that reflects on their experiences and how events have shaped them as community members, learners, thinkers, and risk-takers.