To encourage students to build a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with the world through their creative exploration. Our environment and curriculum are designed to nurture the unfolding development of the “whole child,” including academic knowledge and skills as well as artistic, reflective, intuitive and interpersonal knowledge and abilities. The school emphasizes each child’s unique interests, strengths, and personality within a supportive, cooperative, caring community of learners.
We view education from a holistic perspective which means, first, we are concerned with the whole child - emotional, social, physical, moral, spiritual, artistic and creative as well as intellectual dimensions of their development - and second, that every child’s life is connected to wider contexts of experience - peers, family, community, culture, and the natural world.
Like all progressive educators, we see children as natural learners and honor that principle. We recognize that children come to the classroom with many gifts, multiple intelligences and languages, full potential, uniqueness, and natural curiosity. We strive to design a learning environment and to use teaching practices that support children’s characteristic ways of exploring, discovering, and constructing their knowledge of the world. Teachers draw forth the intrinsic motivation of each child so that learning becomes an interactive process that values imagination, creativity, and joy, fostering a love of learning. Instead of dividing up the mind and the body, science and the humanities, action and thought, intelligence and emotion, holistic education seeks to bring these together. In this way, we foster the values of both independence of each learner and interdependence of all subjects as well as all aspects of life. Holistic education seeks to foster a sense of connection to both the natural world and the human community; we feel this approach cultivates social as well as ecological responsibility, a compassionate sense of wonder, and genuine self-understanding.
Teachers at Bellwether join children in their sense of wonder as they learn. Teachers work to develop relationships with each child at Bellwether, to understand each child as a unique individual, and to help facilitate their learning. Teachers collaborate with students by sensitively observing, listening, actively participating in, and documenting discoveries. Through these elements, teachers guide learning by providing appropriate materials and activities, asking provocative questions, and by supporting creative risk-taking. Teachers encourage children to make connections, see relationships, and take multiple perspectives throughout their learning. Teachers at Bellwether seek to develop critical and reflective thinking skills allowing students to construct their own learning and knowledge through inquiry.
In 1992 Beth Stadtlander opened a preschool in her home in Burlington, Vermont and named it the Bellwether School. That same year, Dr. Ron Miller, founder of the journal Holistic Education Review and author of What Are Schools For? Holistic Education in American Culture, and his wife moved to Burlington and enrolled their three-year-old son in Beth’s preschool.
Two years later, Beth and Ron began planning an expansion of the program into an independent elementary school that would be a model of holistic education practice. They consulted with colleagues from area colleges and experts in classroom design, established a nonprofit organization, and purchased a home on a two-acre property in Williston, Vermont. Under the supervision of local architect Ted Montgomery, renovation and construction began in late 1994, and the Bellwether School opened at its new location in September, 1995. Beth continued teaching in the preschool and also served as the school’s director, while Ron became the first president of the board.
The name “Bellwether” suggested from the beginning that the school was intended to be a leading indicator in education, an exemplar of future trends. Beth and Ron envisioned a school that would practice holistic, developmentally based, learner-centered educational methods and offer an integrated curriculum emphasizing the arts and experiential activities in the community and in the world of nature.
As Ron explained:
"The term "holistic" refers to an underlying philosophy of education that emphasizes connectedness, integration, context and meaning: The learner is viewed as a whole person, with emotional, social, aesthetic, moral and spiritual qualities nourished along with intellectual potentials; a group of learners and teachers are viewed as a community with a dynamic life of its own; the curriculum does not divide experience into separate subject areas or time periods but aims for integrated, meaningful understanding; and the ultimate purpose of education is seen as a deeply felt connection with both the natural world (ecological literacy) and the social and cultural world (social responsibility). In short, holistic education does not strive so much for eventual career success as for cultivating a compassionate sense of wonder, a knowledge of one’s cultural and ecological roots, and deep self-understanding.
"Developmentally-based education is an approach that recognizes the inherent patterns of intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual unfolding within every young person. In essence, a developmental approach asserts that children do not gain an authentic understanding of the world by having preselected facts, ideas, texts, and ‘curriculum units’ delivered to them by adults, but that they construct their knowledge by interacting with their environment according to the characteristic capacities of each stage of development. It is the educator’s task to stimulate and call to these capacities, turning the learner loose to experiment, explore and discover."
Bellwether became a Vermont nonprofit corporation on November 21, 1994 and opened its doors for children ages 3-8 in September 1995. The school added an Elementary program in the fall of 2000.