Getting Schooled About Education

booksThe late Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” He was right. But there are so many different ways to educate your children, from public schools to private schools, to homeschooling and others. Choosing the right curriculum is crucial in building the next generation, but no one system is right for everyone. As enrollment season slowly creeps up on us, Corvallis parents must make some pretty hefty decisions.

Below is a basic overview of the many diverse curriculum options Corvallis has to offer, including a primer to get you started down the road of understanding each of their philosophies.

Dr. Maria Montessori founded her first school in Rome in 1907. The Montessori philosophy is based heavily on psychology and focuses on human development by concentrating on liberty, self-construction and spontaneous activity. Classes are typically conducted in small groups with different age ranges, such as two to six. These multi-age groups are very important to the core model, as the older children are able to teach the younger children and the various age groups learn to work together. This form of education theoretically allows the student to focus on personal aptitudes and talents instead of all students focusing on an identical curriculum. Student independence is encouraged, and many lessons are hands-on, helping along the formation of concrete understandings of abstract ideas. While limited exposure to television and other popular media is encouraged, judgment is largely left up to the parents.

Montessori classrooms today generally have tighter age ranges, but some features remain constant. For instance, there is the assumption that children will reach a critical moment at which they will naturally want to learn something such as writing their name, so it is important that the teachers in the class provide an environment that is prepared – that fosters curiosity – and that they make themselves available to teach as the child demonstrates an interest. In this way, learning is accomplished naturally and easily. There are materials that help students develop that are specific to Montessori classrooms, but there is generally only one of each item – in this way children will learn to negotiate taking turns and such.

There are three Montessori options in the area and use the traditional educational methods of Montessori curriculum (although there are many forms of Montessori out there). The Corvallis Montessori is led by Adele Carey. Founded in 1967, the school started as a single classroom in the basement of a church and has grown to be a school of approximately 100 students. The school teaches students from 18 months to 12 years of age. Philomath Montessori is led by Pauline Tanaka and serves students from age two-and-a-half to seven, they have served the community since 1984.

Sundborn Children’s House is a Montessori school in Albany, complete with outdoor gardens and a curriculum dedicated to natural learning. It is led by Karen Barton-Madsen, and teaches about 25 students from two-and-a-half to six years old.


The Waldorf Curriculum was founded in Germany by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner in 1919. Often confused with, but fundamentally different from, Montessori, Waldorf practices teacher-guided learning in a similar fashion to traditional public schools. That’s really where the similarities end. Based on the concept of Anthroposophy (which is often referred to as “spiritual science”), Waldorf supports the notion that in order to understand the mechanics of the universe, one must first understand humanity. This is evident in several unique practices, such as having students construct their own toys, rather than using pre-designed ones.

Melding physicality with learning is a feature at many Waldorf schools; for instance, you may see students dancing the shape of numbers.

A notable practice of Waldorf schools is a strict approach to popular media that seeks to limit a child’s exposure to any form of it as much as possible. It is rare to find a television or a computer in a classroom until you get up to the higher grade levels. There’s a strong emphasis on imagination and fantasizing on one’s own, rather than basing it on existing creations.

According to Enrollment Director Liz Riley, the classrooms are play-oriented, but with a strict curriculum. The students remain with the teachers for eight years, in a teaching process they refer to as “looping.” Preschool is offered to both two and three-year-olds, and the school teaches K-8, with a preschool program for two and three year-olds.

There are also various religious educational options in Corvallis for those seeking a learning environment that projects a strong image of their faith. Here are just a few examples:
Santiam Christian Schools, located in Adair Village, is known for its athletics and theater programs, but they also offer many opportunities for Advanced Placement courses. According to Admissions Director Raelyn Reidlinger, “Santiam Christian offers strong academics and a firmly rooted belief in God’s sovereignty… Our Christian worldview teaching perspective includes the passionate belief that face to face teacher/student interaction cannot be technologically replicated.” Santiam teaches preschool through high school.

Zion Lutheran, located at Harrison and 29th, offers grades K-8 and has been in operation since 1907. A smaller school, the size lends itself to more multi-age settings. Focusing on the concept of a Christ-centered family, Zion teaches through what they call a “lens of faith.” Principal Jonathan Schultz states, “We are open to any families seeking a safe, nurturing environment where students are very well prepared for the next level academically.”

Santiam has a reputation with parents as being stricter in some respects than Zion Lutheran.
Central Valley Christian School, located on Highway 34 between Corvallis and Albany is a Seventh Day Adventist school offering preschool and K-8. According to the website, they “believe that true education develops the spiritual, mental, and physical powers of each student; preparing them for the joy of service.”

Traditional Private
As the only traditional, or mainstream, private school in the area, Ashbrook Independent School offers a preschool with K-8. One of the strengths of private schools are the small class sizes, and this is one of Ashbrook’s main selling points. According to their website, “[Ashbrook] teachers provide individual attention, set high standards for achievement and behavior, and foster traditional values such as courtesy, integrity, foresight, resourcefulness, and self-mastery.”

The concept behind homeschooling is to give parents complete and direct control over their child’s education. Every parent has different ideals, focuses, and ways of teaching. Some parents prefer their children to be highly socialized while others don’t see this as a very big priority.
There are set curricula homeschoolers can use, although a mix of these curricula is common. Every parent has the ability to choose a curriculum tailored to each particular child.

The Home Schoolhouse here in Corvallis is operated by Suzanne Wright. It acts as an advisory for homeschool families, a place where curriculum can be set, suggested, or discussed. Suzanne states, “Homeschooling, done well, offers the opportunity for children to explore their questions and curiosities, develop self-reliance and critical thinking, and gain knowledge in meaningful, practical ways.”

Despite carrying a social stigma more blatantly than other educational options, homeschooling has come a long way over the years, with many available resources to help parents excel in educating their children – including, but not limited to groups for homeschool families so that children can socialize regularly with others.

Encompassing all grades, this alternative to traditional education follows the philosophy that learning occurs continually and should not be confined to or hindered by a classroom. Instead, the student learns from household duties, curiosities, play, books, mentors, travel and more. Essentially, they learn from proactive life experience. According to Kathy Thompson, a parent who unschooled her children, “Learning happens all the time…[Unschooling is about] taking the fear and coercion out of learning.”

Unschooling is often viewed as both a subset of homeschooling (it is not) and is seen by some as an extreme approach to education, as it rejects most of the basic tenets of just about any other system.

Public School
And of course, there is the option of public school. Kevin Bogatin, the assistant superintendent of the Corvallis School District, stated that the public school system “is an integral part of ‘America’s most innovative city,’ we strive to develop creative, forward-thinking strategies and programs to prepare our students to be leaders who are motivated to make a positive impact in their community.”

The School District is in the process of a “multi-phase digital transformation called 1:World” which is increasing the utilization of technology within the curriculum. This philosophy suggests the student should not just learn the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic but also how to operate and manipulate the latest technology.

While each public school district is different, the most often quoted support for this system comes from its ability to make use of a large institution and government integration in order to remain current as well as provide students with a large social and cultural atmosphere. This is in addition to many other opportunities in the form of extracurricular engagements.

Our public school district, like most, serves grades K-12.

So, What Now?
It’s no secret that there’s nothing contained in this article that isn’t subject to heavy criticism, sometimes of the blistering nature. But that brings us to what parents already know: every kid is different, every family is different. That’s the easy part, but learning what’s available at the buffet is just the first step. If your first child is reaching school age, or you’re considering a change, there’s no time like the present to hit the books yourself and decide what is right for your kids. And, as one parent of two suggested, trust your gut about your child’s needs, but also be willing to change your mind if the school you choose turns out not be a match.

by Addie Maguire and Johnny Beaver