• We believe children are natural learners with an innate and powerful curiosity.
  • We implement this philosophy through emergent curriculum, supported by observation and narrative reports.
  • Progress is evaluated against individual goals.

Southshire students study as members of a multi-age community in which an emergent curriculum driven by the children’s interests and inquiries is combined with an engaging, traditional academic program.

Reading and writing are taught through an integrated system of phonics, whole language, and individualized attention. Math and science concepts are taught via hands-on activities through which children learn to observe, question, calculate, and problem-solve. Instruction in rhythm and instrumental music, art, and foreign language is offered through partnerships with area professionals. Other enrichment programs include swimming at the Bennington Recreation Center, skiing at Bromley Mountain, and various in-house and other presentations and field trips.

Southshire Community School is approved by the Vermont State Board of Education, and our curriculum meets state standards.


We believe that children are natural learners, and that learning comes from within. Children have an insatiable curiosity, a drive to explore and manipulate their environment, a need to think for themselves, and a desire to express themselves. Through the process of exploration and expression a child recognizes the person that he or she is, defines a style of learning, discovers new interests, and begins to understand and occupy a place within the world.

We believe that each of us is a person of value, and that each of us has contributions to make to others. We want our classroom to be a community of individuals respecting and appreciating differences, a place where people feel safe expressing themselves, and a place where children are encouraged in their movement towards responsible choices.

Our mission is to help children to become individuals with critical thinking skills, ones who value themselves and others as creative contributing members of a community, who see themselves as problem solvers, who love learning for its own sake, and who view learning as a lifelong process.

We pursue these goals by:

  • Giving children the freedom to explore their own interests both individually and as a group in a safe and stimulating environment.
  • Allowing children to progress at their own pace while holding them to an expectation of excellence.
  • Providing a curriculum that has meaning and context for them.
  • Teaching to the whole child recognizing and working with the physical, emotional, and social aspects of each child.

Our mixed-age setting allows children to connect with learning on a deeper level. They encounter a healthy range of academic development, and develop a genuine understanding of the curriculum and of themselves as a learners.

Parents and siblings are welcome in our community as important and necessary members. We encourage them to share their special interests, talents, and abilities with the school. This helps demonstrate how learning is a natural process that belongs to us all.

Emergent Curriculum

In emergent thematic curriculum, a child’s interests and needs give direction to the material. As themes emerge, teachers develop curriculum that reinforces the child’s interests while expanding the scope of inquiry. Children gain information and develop skills in a manner that has personal meaning and is relevant and useful to them. They remain active participants in the learning process, and view learning as natural and enjoyable. They see that others value their interests and ideas. They build self-esteem while developing themselves as students.

Each day children at Southshire have time to use paint, clay, crayons, markers, sand, water, wood, yarn, fabrics, blocks, Legos, and dress-up clothes in a thoughtful, exciting, and sustained manner. To be creators, children need to explore a range of materials. Such explorations offer an important avenue to learning, self-discovery, self-expression, and self-discipline.

Observation and Narrative

Emergent curriculum requires a keen understanding of individual students.

Teachers observe students during periods of self-directed activity, such as activity time and recess, to help identify areas of demonstrated interest and patterns of inquiry. They meet regularly to discuss observations and plan curricula, and they write narratives to describe their students in context and elucidate the qualities of individual learners.

Together, observation and narrative guide the creation of curriculum based on demonstrated interests and an expectation of academic excellence.

Evaluation of Student Progress

Each child’s individual learning goals and work expectations are considered a key part of the academic program. Expectations are held with continuity and reflect the individual child’s learning style, ability, and need. The student is an active participant in the learning process. Progress is evaluated by a partnership of student, teacher, and parents, not by testing or letter grades.

In order to encourage intrinsic motivation, tests and grades are not used at Southshire. There is inherent value in the accomplishments of children, and the recognition of this enhances the joy of learning that is nurtured in each student.

A child cannot fail at Southshire. Progress is assessed based upon the achievement of individualized goals and standards of excellence that are realistic for each student. Each week, children meet individually with a teacher who reviews their work and supports them in planning and setting new goals. (If a child would like a parent present at their weekly check-in, parents can schedule a mutually convenient time with the teacher.) If a child is having difficulty accomplishing learning tasks, parents are consulted. New learning goals are established when previous goals have been met.

Parents and teachers maintain an ongoing dialogue about students’ progress. In lieu of letter grades, teachers write two very comprehensive evaluation documents per year; these narrative reports are sent to parents in February and in June. Parent-teacher conferences, in which the child’s progress is discussed and parents are educated on how they can help their child to learn, are scheduled twice a year, in October and in February. Parents may request additional conferences at any time.

Expectations of the Vermont State Board of Education for learning and achievement are closely attended to at each grade level. As an approved independent school accepting students from tuitioning towns, Southshire uses the assessments required by those towns to measure the performance of tuitioned students. In addition, the school provides data on student assessment as required by the Vermont Agency of Education.