The Coastal Post - June, 1998

Pine Gulch 20th Anniversary

By Jill Whitcroft

Twenty years ago a group of parents from the Bolinas and Stinson communities initiated an alternative school program, named Pine Gulch by the students.

In its present form Pine Gulch is a community of multi-age learners where 1st-5th grade students, their parents, and the teaching staff, work together to create a stimulating and emotionally safe classroom environment. A thematic curriculum, peer teaching and project based experiential learning are used to foster academic growth, independence and a lifelong love of learning. Key elements of the program include a developmentally appropriate curriculum focused on the whole child, and emphasis on creativity, problem solving, field trips and the environment.

At its inception the program was attached to the main school but operated an independent curriculum, selected by the students themselves in conjunction with the parents and staff. Jenny Pfeiffer, one of the early teachers with Sandy Niman who began the program, reports that children would sign a contract at the beginning of the week stating what they would aim to achieve by week's end. Kindergarten through 8th grade were included. The class operated as an extended family for all participants and many former Pine Gulch students' own children have attended the program in their turn.

Study of the natural sciences has always been a major component of the program with a strong emphasis on drama and the arts as means of acquiring knowledge of the world around and of the self. Another major component of the program has been the use of local resources such as Audubon Canyon Ranch, PRBO and College of Marin Marine Biology Lab to further experiential learning and integrate the academic curriculum. Always innovative, Robert Scarola introduced computers to the class back in the early 80's. Parent skills were and are an important contribution to the class experience.

Although the program in its present form, taught by Cathy Nichelini, is closely tied to the curriculum of the school and expects its graduates to enter the mainstream classrooms fully prepared, there is still great emphasis on co-operative learning and learning from personal observation of nature.

Pine Gulch will be celebrating its twenty years as a child-centered, learning-enriched environment with a reunion party on June 13th from 2-6 p.m. All former students whom we have been unable to contact are cordially invited to attend and celebrate with the current generation.

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