Sage Feliciano

Ideal Community Project: Sapience Schools

Welcome to Sapience

Congratulations on choosing Sapience Year-Round School for your child's high school education needs. Sapience Schools believe that learning should be a fun adventure with emphasis on comprehension, application, and incorporation of historically academic information, as well as healthy relationships, community service, high self-esteem, and self-knowledge. Sapience Schools have a successful 14-year track record of preparing young adults for higher educational opportunities and competent, self-assured entry into all facets of adulthood. This welcome brochure first discusses Sapience history, campus design, curriculum, and staff and student population, then provides specifics about your campus, the year-round school schedule, local school population, and how to sign up for classes and an advisor.

Sapience Schools has quite a reformist history. In 1987, education activist, Sylvia DuMont opened the first Sapience School just outside the city of Verdant, California. The Verdant campus was the result of a community strongly united by a common vision of education as more than what DuMont called, "an ineffective sterile, bureaucratic, Pink Floyd-esque meat grinder set to Pavlovian bells." More precisely, the Verdant school was born as a response to a combination of factors affecting public schools since the 1970's. These factors include reduced financial support from state and federal government combined with an alarming influx of corporate "sponsorship" funds tied into prolific classroom advertising. Another primary factor motivating creation of Sapience Schools was the steady decline in public school test scores partnered with a rising illiteracy rate. DuMont watched her nephews, nieces, and other young adults emerge from "modern" high schools throughout Northern America without basic living skills, completely cut off from what Joel Garreau and Leo Marx would call "the garden, and paradise." Essentially, California's "progressive" educational system had become the epitome of Leo Marx's "machine" fueled by "faith in reason, science, and technology" (Garreau, p. 366). Unfortunately, that faith was not fuel enough to keep vast numbers of young adults from entering the world able to balance a checkbook, understand credit cards and interest rates, appreciate or understand music, dance, or act appropriately at a dinner party. DuMont conducted an informal study on why Northern American youth were emerging from the public school systems so cut off and unprepared for adulthood. Not surprisingly, the problems with public schools all stemmed from money issues, from physical location aesthetics to overcrowding and creeping consumerism.

Among other things, DuMont found that campus design, overcrowding, and progressive financial cuts to creative and basic living skills programs conspired to work against the theoretical goals of public education. DuMont pointed out that most campuses back then and now look like drab little corporations and military bases-structural clones with classrooms identifiable only by a door number. For example, several Northern California high schools have the distinct look of a well-designed prison with high, gray concrete walls and chain link fences, complete with security guards and frisking of students. These campuses are mostly bereft of natural shade, compelling students to stay inside the fortress walls and out of the harsh elements. Flora on these campuses consists of young, recently-planted, skinny trees and low shrubs. The best campuses rise up inside chain link fences as dull concrete buildings and quonset hut trailers surrounded by stretches of blacktop and badly maintained, crew cut lawns. Mike Davis, in his article, "Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of urban space," talks about how this type of "introverted . . . fortresslike . . . dumb box" architecture communicates a "warning off of the underclass Other" (Davis, pp.159, 167). Is it any wonder that so many children feel so alienated, depressed, and angry in their schools that they kill themselves or kill others?

There isn't a total lack of funds going into public schools, however. The sports industry has been known to offer large financial donations to high schools, but only to fund traditional athletic programs. Inside the actual classrooms, students are alphabetized into cramped rows of desks. Classes are continually overcrowded with 30 or more children to one harried, underqualified, underpaid instructor. Materials are old, worn, and usually out of date, except for the television bolted to the wall, blaring the latest commercial hype for soft drinks and designer jeans. Even the gleaming computers, donated as corporate tax write-off slash advertising coup, fail in the state-of-the-art department. DuMont also found incredible cuts across the board in music programs, the visual and performing arts, human sexuality, and driver education. Most schools were forced into a narrow emphasis on mathematics, science (especially technology and computer studies), history, and traditional English studies. Again and again, DuMont found a slender pocket of students who could successfully conform to these narrow conditions, while other youngsters were struggling with low grades, lack of appropriately focused creative challenge, and virtually no positive individual attention. So many are crowded in, unseen, and lost in the urban, concrete jungle system. Symptoms of California's and other failing United States public schools mirror those manifested from progressive urbanization within our cities. More and more high school students report "a pervasive feeling of dislocation, alienation, conflict, anxiety, and loss" (Garreau, p. 363). Unfortunately, these feelings in many children spawn various levels of violence from depressions, additions, and suicides to shooting sprees. Based on obvious and compelling reasons, Sapience Schools sought to become an educational oasis of celebration reforming campus design, expanding and diversifying the curriculum, and recruiting the highest quality staff to effectively avoid all problems still plaguing the United States progressive public school system.

Seeking a more pastoral setting for educational growth, DuMont built the first Sapience campus from a nest of neglected farm buildings just north of Verdant, California. Rather than build on unblemished land, DuMont used a massive educational grant and generous financial donations to purchase already developed land and existing structures. Before any building began, DuMont involved the Verdant community to participate in creating a campus design from a common vision of beauty, simplicity, fun, and utility. In the end, DuMont and the Verdant participants decided on a layout reminiscent of Ebenezer Howard's Garden City. Instead of Howard's "six magnificent boulevards . . . [that] traverse . . . from centre to circumference, dividing it into six equal parts or wards" the first Sapience campus was made to form a circular complex of 8 "spoke" buildings radiating out from a huge octagonal grassy center area dotted by several shade-providing old-growth trees (Howard, p. 51). Using Howard's Crystal Palace arcade as further inspiration, each building became a sort of bright, glassy arcade, ensuring that every classroom received abundant ambient light through major windows and multiple skylights. For easy visual distinction and to ensure against a drab, confusing military base look, every building was painted a different color of the rainbow (purple, dark blue, light blue, green, yellow, orange, red, white). Four more buildings (main office, cafeteria, and two multi-class/community meeting rooms) were constructed in an arc around the three southernmost spoke buildings. Students painted each front building creating an inspirational mural celebrating education. Parking areas were provided in front of the main office and cafeteria, easily accessible from a great curving driveway veering off the main road. In layout and design, as well as values and curriculum, this first campus serves as a basic model for the six subsequent Sapience Schools that have opened in the western half of the United States between 1989 and 2000.

The Sapience curriculum provides all courses that meet the ancient "three-R" needs for reading, writing, and arithmetic, but there is more to life than the educational equivalent of bread and water. As Edward Bellamy put it in his novel, Looking Backward, "...we should not consider life worth living if we had to be surrounded by a population of ignorant, boorish, coarse, wholly uncultivated men and women..." (Bellamy, p. 107). So, besides providing academic basics such as art, history, humanities and literature, mathematics, music, and science, Sapience includes classes that provide a fuller experience of adult day-to-day living in the global village. We have health-related classes such as first aid and basic medical care, nutrition, and physical fitness through a variety of athletic and musical movement options. Home management courses include baking and cooking, handiwork and home repair, mending and sewing as well as a course in manners where students learn polite forms of communication as well as acceptable intercultural social behaviors. Sapience also provides courses in community and world interaction teaching civic service, driving and geographic navigation, financial management, relational and sexual communication skills, and basic child care. In all classes, critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving are stressed to give students ample opportunity to learn and exercise these skills before they take responsibility for themselves or others as adults. Finally, each student is assigned both an adult advisor and one or more peer counselors for the duration of their high school years. These mentoring relationships focus on values enlightenment, providing opportunity for learning meditation, ethics, basic planning and prioritizing, and deeper self-understanding.

We at Sapience have good reason to believe that our faculty and students are among the finest in the world. Our teacher-advisors possess sterling recommendations and credentials above and beyond federal and state requirements, Sapience teachers are proven experts not only in their field of research and interest, but in the delicate art of teaching. Every instructor is excited about their subjects and this excitement makes a difference in the hearts and minds of our students. Because of our small student-to-teacher ratio, this means that in addition to teaching sporting rules or ancient Egyptian politics, calculus, dressmaking, or Shakespearean sonnets, our instructors get to develop caring relationships with the people they teach. It is these relationships that foster intellectual curiosity, proactive learning, and ultimately a love of lifelong learning. In addition to faculty, each Sapience School has an elected Student Council consisting of upper-level students that exceed academic and personal skill requirements. Qualifying students require two or more faculty members to write letters of recommendation before they can run for election to the council. Similar to the presidential election method in Bellamy's Looking Backward, the president of each year's Student Council is selected by the "retiring" senior council members who graduate in June. The Student Council provides leadership and communication service to the entire student body as well as the faculty. The council organizes school events, coordinates community service, awards honors to outstanding individuals, and provides one-on-one peer counselling to fellow students in need. Similar to Plato's ideal in The Republic, Sapience schools and faculty realizes that humans create hierarchies based on age, experience, and ability. Rather than Plato's Ruler, Auxiliary, and Craftsman classes (and their respective roles in Plato's ideal state), the Sapience hierarchy includes Faculty, Student Council, and Student Body. Unlike Plato's ideal state, those posted to faculty or student council positions are not limited by sex or physical prowess. In fact, Sapience does not overtly or covertly advocate the belief in a "weaker sex" or any other form of discrimination based on physical, mental, spiritual, or cultural differences. Moreover, Sapience faculty is dedicated to advocating and encouraging each student to explore his/her career options beyond those narrowly associated with that student's sex, sexual orientation, physical attributes/limitations, cultural background, and even financial aspirations. Further, Sapience teachers are committed to helping each student make empowered life choices based on a combination of the student's interests, aptitudes, and joyous experiences.

About the Northern Generalia Campus

The 45-acre Northern Generalia campus is located in a pastoral setting in the Cupertown foothills. Surrounding our twelve state-of-the-art school buildings are a protected old wood forest to the west and the Cupertown clearwater stream to the north. Cuptertown proper is just over one mile south of the school while nearby Sunnydale is a little over seven miles east. The Northern Generalia Sapience campus boasts an extensive organic garden, fruit orchard, and compost heap maintained jointly by the horticultural science classes and home economics gardening classes through an ongoing project venture that includes volunteer gardeners from the surrounding community. Students and teachers participate in planning and planting, growing and harvesting fresh produce served daily as part of our award-winning lunch program. Each year, students decide how and where to donate a portion of the Generalia Garden yield back into the community. Generalia's athletic department maintains our indoor swimming pool as well as an acre of manicured games green. On holidays, weekends, and evenings when school is not in session, the swimming pool, the cafeteria, and other large meeting spaces are available to be used by the community for a nominal fee.

Sapience Schools believes that modern times demand modern ways of teaching. In agrarian times, prolonged summer breaks were necessary so that students could help their families harvest crops. However, in the information age, those long (usually unsupervised) summer breaks simply ensured that students forgot much of what they learned the previous year. For educational continuity and stronger subject reinforcement, Sapience Schools provides instruction with shorter session breaks interspersed throughout the calendar year. The school day begins at 8:30 AM. Each class is 65 minutes long with a 5 minute transition period between each class session. Lunch is from 12:00 to 1:00, with classes resuming until 4:30 PM. Each student experiences 6 classes per day, 5 days per week. Sapience School schedules provide for several week or multi-week breaks throughout the calendar year. Students receive approximately 11 weeks of break time woven into 41 weeks of educational experience. Session break periods are:

  • First two weeks of January
  • One week mid-March
  • One week mid-May (NOTE: Graduation ceremonies are held the last Wednesday in June.)
  • First four weeks in July
  • First week in October
  • Second to last week in November
  • Last week in December

    In addition to scheduled break weeks, a national and observed rest day schedule is posted at the end of every calendar year to reflect holidays and additional teacher-in-service school break days.

    Most Generalia students live in either Cupertown or Sunnydale, but Sapience allows students from other nearby towns to attend Generalia, providing parents can provide transportation. All students meeting application and entrance test criteria are welcome to enroll at the Generalia campus at any time, regardless of home location. Because of space constraints and Sapience policy to maintain a strict 15-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio for classes other than physical education, drama, and band, the maximum number of students attending Generalia at any time is limited to 1100. Therefore, enrollment is based on a first-come, first-served basis.

    We're glad you chose Sapience Schools and we hope this brochure has helped you to better understand Sapience origins, objectives, campus design, curriculum, and population. To finalize registration, please contact the Generalia campus registrar's office to sign up for our pre-term luncheon and new student tour. After the tour, you and your child will have an opportunity to meet available faculty-advisors and review class offerings. Next week, you will receive a packet with contact information for your child's new-entry advisor. A mandatory meeting date will be assigned. Please ensure your child arrives promptly and is prepared to meet with the advisor regarding his/her class preferences for the school term. The advisor will guide your child through class registration and, if possible, sign your child up with his/her term advisor. We suggest that students choose their term advisor as soon as possible; however, your child may choose to keep their new-entry advisor for the term. If you have any questions about the class registration process, the Generalia campus, or Sapience Schools in general, please call the Generalia campus main office to speak with or make an appointment to see the vice principal. If you want to volunteer in the library or garden, please contact the Registrar to find out scheduling information. Finally, may we all be, as Sir Thomas More puts it in his book, Utopia, "unwearied pursuers of knowledge" this year and onward!

    Works Cited

    Bellamy, Edward, (1996). Looking Backward. Toronto, Canada: Dover Publications.

    Davis, M. (1999). Fortress Los Angeles: The militarization of urban space. In M. Sorkin's (ed), Variation on a theme park: The new American city and the end of public space (pp. 154-180).

    Garreau, J. (1991). Edge city: Life on the new frontier. New York: Doubleday.

    Howard, E. (1898/1965). Garden cities of to-morrow. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    More, Thomas, (1997). Utopia. New York: Dover Publications.

    Plato, (360 BCE, 1991). The Republic (A. Bloom trans.). New York: Basic Books.