"I like this school because it is a First Amendment School
so we can say what we want and petition the government."

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In 2005, the Stevens School joined the national network of First Amendment Schools. These are  "designed to transform how schools teach and practice the rights and responsibilities of citizenship that frame civic life in our democracy." Their vision that the "five freedoms protected by the First Amendment are a cornerstone of American democracy and essential for citizenship in a diverse society" dovetails with the Stevens School mission to prepare students who "fulfill their civic duties, embrace human diversity, and thrive in a complex world." That commitment is manifested at the Stevens School in these ways.

Curriculum: All grades study the ideas and events that have influenced and shaped contemporary American ideas of self-government. Third and fourth graders use the text We the People to begin understanding the ideas of natural rights, liberty, and responsibility. Fifth and sixth graders look at early world civilizations and pre-Columbian North and South America. Seventh graders focus on early America, the creation of the constitution, and the use of the constitution to build American democracy. Eighth graders examine diverse cultures and governments.

Classroom: Seminar-style classes promote the critical, analytical thinking that is incumbent upon citizens of a democracy. Teachers provoke thoughtful responses by emphasizing the tensions inherent in a diverse society, layering discussions with opposing viewpoints and encouraging alternative interpretations of ideas.

Methodology: Students respond to a variety of texts and primary documents through discussion and extensive writing. Students practice what the educator Mike Schmoker calls "argumentative literacy," working to develop point of views that incorporate their values, knowledge, and experiences.

These are some of the important activities:

  • Unscripted mock trial based on a real case
  • Legislative simulations
  • Model U.N.
  • International treaty-making simulations
  • Candlelight Vigil, Dartmouth College, to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • African American Read-In to celebrate African American authors

School Culture: The school accepts that conflicts will arise in any human interaction. Acknowledging those conflicts and working together to resolve them develops accountability in both teachers and students. The school meets each morning to discuss the events of the school day and to address through student interaction, any issues that have developed. Teachers work to ensure that all voices are heard and that students participate in the resolution of any problems. The school mission, the idea that responsibility is necessary to maintain democratic ideals, and the importance of respect for self and others are all used to establish the intellectual and emotional safety that promotes critical thinking.

Some examples of our broad-based decision-making:

  • Music appreciation: Students designed a course that allowed each student to investigate a specific genre of music and present that to the entire school.
  • Attire guidelines for handbook: Student committee worked with faculty and board.
  • Student committee convenes when discrepancies or students disagree with the guidelines.

Community Service. Students participate in a variety of community service activities, such as: 

  • Election years: "Get out the vote"
  • Ongoing: "Dialogue on Freedom"
  • Occasional: Clean up at local farm after fire, painting kindergarten room at local church

Board of Trustees: Parents, members of the community, and teachers from neighboring schools comprise the board. The School hopes alums, too, will join the board as their number increases.