the Center for Teaching and Learning
A Brief History
Center for Teaching and Learning, a K-8 independent school was founded by Nancie Atwell in 1990. CTL is accredited by
the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, licensed
by the Maine Department of Education, and has state and federal
tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) corporation. It draws students
from more than twenty communities in Maine's midcoast region.
CTL is a demonstration school: its faculty conducts research and draws on credible studies; develops practices that reflect our knowledge and theories; and helps other teachers understand what is possible for their classrooms and schools. CTL exists because we want to work with teachers and children, and because we are determined to teach as well as we can without requesting permission or awaiting approval. CTL is a teacher-founded, teacher-run school. The board of directors oversees the corporation and its financial status, and the faculty determines program, curriculum, and staffing.
Royalties from the first edition of Nancie Atwell’s book In the Middle underwrote the initial construction of CTL. Beyond finding funding sources, the challenges during the founding years were onerous: forming a corporation and winning IRS non-profit status, finding a town in midcoast Maine that would permit the establishment of an independent school, locating a buildable and affordable site, working with architects, drilling a well and conducting water and soils tests, and satisfying planning board members, neighbors, the state department of education, the department of human services, and the fire marshal. The school was under construction for four summers between 1990 and 1996 as we completed the buildings in stages and moved from a K-3 to a K-8 student population. Many parents lent a hand over one or several—or all—of these stages.
It was another challenge to attract students in a rural area in which there had never been an independent school: we continue to be grateful to the brave parents of our first group of twenty-nine children. Today, in addition to the seventy-something children enrolled in K-8, we maintain active applications from many parents who hope to send their children to CTL.
It is a continuing challenge to enroll the range of students who allow us to characterize CTL as a demonstration site. CTL seeks children of many levels of ability and socioeconomic background, and we work hard to keep tuition rates low and raise money to provide tuition assistance, so that the school can attract all kinds of kids and families and provide a credible lab school for public school teachers.
It continues to be a challenge to keep CTL’s budget in the black. Each year brings tough decisions about fiscal priorities. Tuitions cover about half of the school’s costs, as opposed to a typical independent school, where tuition fees generate 80-95% of annual operating expenses. At CTL, additional income is raised through an annual fundraising campaign, a biennial silent auction, seminars for teachers that the faculty conducts at sites around the country, royalties from Nancie Atwell’s publications, and an intern program for visiting teachers.
CTL’s successes have made the challenges worthwhile. We enjoy a physical plant that is designed for children, learning, teaching, and collegiality. Our students’ sense of initiative, enthusiasm for school, competence, and curiosity take our breaths away. Our kids know stuff and want to learn more. They understand how work is done, and they want to work. We have a curriculum of breadth and depth that creates writers, readers, mathematicians, scientists, historians, painters, debaters, singers, reporters, musicians, actors, poets, sculptors, critics, political activists, humanitarians, and future citizens. We enjoy relationships of trust and congeniality with parents—friendships that are long-term and based on love and a sense of responsibility for a community of children. And we have a faculty of outstanding teachers who bring a deep knowledge of effective methods, intelligence, high expectations, common sense, a cooperative spirit, and an awesome willingness to work hard for other people’s children.
Through our intern program for visiting teachers, we also have a strong sense of how our instructional model translates into diverse settings. For the past nineteen years, teams of interning educators have returned to their schools from a week at CTL to create changes that are good for their students, too.
The Center for Teaching and Learning is a school where individual children are respected, accepted, and known for who they are and what they can do, where every decision made by any teacher is based on intimate knowledge of a student’s strengths and goals and the teacher’s best assessment of what a child needs in order to become a skilled, successful, humane, productive grown-up.
About Our Program
CTL’s curriculum stresses real and original work: writing and publication in all the disciplines, computation and problem-solving, original research and experimentation, design, observation, data collection and analysis, the reading of children’s literature across the curriculum, dramatic and musical performance, games and physical fitness, explorations in the graphic and plastic arts, public and community service, and collaboration with other learners.
We believe that authentic activities such as these invite children to engage in versions of the ways that productive adults experience the world. Schoolwork at CTL has intrinsic value, transfers readily to life beyond school, cultivates critical-thinking capacities, and motivates students to sustain the hard work that learning requires. Our goal is an academic environment that is both inviting and rigorous, one that gives children diverse opportunities to demonstrate and strengthen what they know and can do.
At each grade level and for every basic-skills subject, instruction is organized as a workshop. Class meetings begin with a brief, whole-group lesson, which is followed by time for individuals to try out new skills or concepts independently in the context of authentic activities monitored by the teacher. In CTL’s workshops, teachers introduce the standards and conventions of writing, reading, and math; children apply these to independent projects; and teachers circulate among students to observe each child, reinforce what has been taught, and teach new skills.
Each year the history and science curricula, K-8, revolve around paired concepts. The five annual curricular emphases are ancient civilizations (Egypt, Greece, Rome, and medieval Europe) and systems (weather, human biology, and astronomy); the first Americans and water; making a nation and geology/paleontology; 19th century America and energy and invention; and who we are today and woods and wildlife. Students engage as researchers of the paired concepts across a year, learning in-depth and collaboratively about the natural and physical worlds and how history is shaped by the circumstances, conditions, and choices of individuals and nations.
Through this five-year, spiral approach to content area disciplines, students encounter an introduction to ancient cultures, a chronology of American history, and a balance of natural and physical sciences. Concepts addressed during their first years at CTL are revisited at greater depth in students’ final years.
An essential component of CTL’s program is our emphasis on literacy and literature. The school uses few textbooks; rather, children read about science and history by tapping a vast collection of fiction and nonfiction sources. They maintain academic journals of their discoveries and questions, produce reports in many genres, take frequent field trips, study with guest experts, teach other students, and engage independently and collaboratively in projects, research, and dramatic and artistic activities that extend their investigations.
In the language arts, children and their teachers meet in daily writing and reading workshops. The teacher presents information about skills or features of writing and reading. Then individual students develop ideas for pieces of writing, and draft, revise, edit, and publish their work. They choose their own books and read them. The teacher moves among students as they write and read and offers assistance, provides instruction, asks questions, records observations, and helps children maintain records of their considerable accomplishments.
CTL’s approach to mathematics explores six strands of knowledge: number, measurement, logic and problem-solving, pattern and function, geometry, and probability and statistics. During daily math workshops, computation runs as a thread through the strands. Exploration of math materials is an additional emphasis in the primary grades, while algebra and geometry are important components of the grades 5-8 program. In kindergarten, Everyday Mathematics is the basis of the math curriculum; grades 1-4 are grounded in the Investigations program; the grades 5-6 curriculum draws on both Investigations and Connected Mathematics; and grades 7-8 use the second edition of the Connected Mathematics program from Michigan State University.
Students are evaluated on the basis of their own progress. Teachers keep records of individuals’ activity in each subject area, and the work students produce stays at school, so their growth may be analyzed and appropriate goals established. At the end of each trimester, children and teachers select samples of representative work and photographs of student activity for inclusion in portfolios. A portfolio is a three-ring binder that provides a permanent record of a student’s performance as a reader, writer, scientist, historian, mathematician, and artist. By the end of eighth grade, a child’s portfolio will consist of nine volumes of schoolwork samples, commentary, photographs, self-assessments, and teacher evaluations. Portfolios are archived at CTL until a student graduates from high school. Progress is reported to parents during evaluation conferences that are led by students, and in end-of-the-year narratives co-authored by teachers and students.
CTL students take responsibility for running and maintaining their school. Job assignments rotate every three weeks. Children pour milk, clean tables, wash and dry glasses, set up classrooms, water plants, monitor classroom supplies and playground equipment, collect and record donations, ring the school bell, and supervise community service projects.
Children’s service to others is one of the hallmarks of CTL. Since 1990, students have collected dozens of boxes of materials for Safe Passage in Guatemala City and for children in Iraq, supplied food and other materials on a continuing basis to the Lincoln County Animal Shelter, adopted a finback whale through the College of the Atlantic, baked for the People to People food exchange, raised money for Oxfam’s efforts in Somalia, donated emergency household goods to the Family Violence Shelter in Augusta and hundreds of boxes of food to the Boothbay Region Food Pantry, created emergency supply bundles to be airdropped in Kosovo, gathered toys for the Parent Resource Center, assisted the Audubon Society in fencing areas on Maine beaches to protect nests of endangered bird species, collected pennies to adopt and protect rain forest acres, cleaned shoreline, sponsored a foster child from El Salvador from age five until his eighteenth birthday, helped support a homeless family in Maine, contributed to the Project PeaceTrees effort to remove landmines from Vietnam, raised funds for Red Cross disaster relief after Maine’s ice storm of 1998 and for students in schools in lower Manhattan displaced by the events of September 11, 2001, participated in the Maine Community Foundation’s Partners in Philanthropy project, supported Haitian earthquake victims through a fund drive for Doctors Without Borders, and sponsored, so far, two children as students in the Safe Passage program in Guatemala.
It’s a necessary fact of life at CTL that parents pitch in. Parents serve as helping teachers in reading, math, science, history, and art and on the playground. They help maintain the physical plant: construction, painting, wiring, plumbing, sewing, cleaning, mowing, weeding, and planting. They provide and serve food, and they assist with transportation on our frequent field trips.
Key elements of CTL’s program provide a model for educators who are seeking effective methods for teaching and being with children and collaborating with colleagues and parents. Interning teachers apply and pay to spend a week at CTL. They observe the methods and structures developed by our faculty and develop plans for change in their own classrooms and schools. Interning teachers do not teach CTL students. Since 1991, we have welcomed teacher-interns from schools in Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Canada, Ecuador, England, India, and the Philippines.
CTL also sponsors one-day literacy conferences for educators in cities across the U.S.; seminar sites include Garden Grove and San Jose, California; Aurora and Denver, Colorado; Mesquite, Houston, and Dallas, Texas; St. Louis; Omaha; Portland and Bangor; Portsmouth; Boston, Holyoke, Beverly, Randolph, and Westborough, Massachusetts; Tampa; Buffalo and Rochester, New York; Chicago, Oak Brook, and Willowbrook, Illinois; Pittsburgh; Princeton; Washington, D.C.; Richmond; Cleveland; Baltimore; Charlotte; Ann Arbor; Athens and Atlanta, Georgia; Stamford, Connecticut; St. Louis; Nashville; and Des Moines.
About Our Student Population
Because of the faculty’s commitment to maintaining a heterogeneous student population, CTL parents represent many walks of life: fishermen, carpenters, nurses, teachers, shipyard workers, bank tellers, landscapers, sales clerks, childcare providers, housecleaners, and musicians, as well as physicians, lawyers, and small-business owners. The official tuition fee is $8,600 per year, but over half of the children receive a tuition adjustment.
CTL’s kindergarten program is a full day. We accept up to nine kindergartners each year. Parents must submit applications by March 1 in order for a child to be considered for the next fall’s class. Entering students must be five years old on or by September 1 of their kindergarten year. In March, kindergarten applicants and their parents visit the school for a morning. The faculty as a whole selects students based on: the date of the original application, our assessment of the appropriateness of our program for the student, parental support for CTL’s curriculum, an anticipation that the child will remain at CTL through eighth grade, and, most importantly, socioeconomic diversity. We accept siblings whenever possible. We also try to achieve a balance in the ratio of boys to girls and to provide tuition assistance to the greatest extent possible.
We accept applications for grades K-8 year-round and continuously add to our applicant pool in the event that an enrolled student should move or withdraw. When a space becomes available, whether during the school year or summer, we contact wait-listed families to schedule visits and interviews; then the faculty meets to consider the available candidates and make enrollment decisions.
CTL is a school for regular kids. We do not seek gifted children, those who will be “easy” to teach, or children who demonstrate particular learning styles; however, CTL lacks the financial resources to fund a special education teacher, tutor, or separate program for children who cannot be accommodated in the classroom. CTL admits students of every race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities accorded or made available to students at the school. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, or ethnic origin in administration of our educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, or athletic and other school-administered programs.
Cross Point Road
Edgecomb, Maine 04556
Phone: 207-882-9706 Fax: 207-882-6413