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Meet Michele Beach of The Patchwork School in Louisville

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michele Beach.

Michele, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The Patchwork School began in my basement in 2007, with my own three-year old as one of the students in our first class of 10 preschoolers. We founded the school with the intention of creating a non-coercive learning environment for people of all ages.

The following year we moved into a small house in Louisville and immediately filled up with 28 preschoolers per day. A few years later, we added on the building next door and expanded our age range to include toddlers and also some options for school-aged children.

Today, we are a non-profit, independent school for children ages 1 and up, with programs for Toddlers, Preschoolers and Kindergartners, as well as School-Age summer camp and aftercare. We also offer professional development for teachers and workshops for parents wanting to learn more about our Social Emotional Learning Framework.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has certainly been an adventure! After moving to Louisville, we had to rush through a special zoning process with the city that we hadn’t realized would be required. We managed to get through two city council meetings and get everything in place just before the school year started. We have also had many ups and downs in working with the state licensing given that some of our unconventional ideas posed some new challenges for them. For instance, rather than having square, easy to measure classrooms, we operate inside two adjacent houses, so the spaces are divided into kitchen and living areas. Each time we would run up against a roadblock, we would just keep working with our representatives to find ways to translate the rules into a language that we could both speak so that we could continue on our path – both meeting the requirements as well as our unique ideas. Another example was our preschool playground’s rope swing, which isn’t considered typical playground equipment but is a centerpiece of our community, beloved by all of the children and staff. This past school year the licensing department asked for it to be removed, and with the help of parents and teachers, we were able to write an appeal so that it’s now back in action.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with The Patchwork School – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Our school is very different from most. Children at The Patchwork School spend their days engaged in hands-on, self-directed activities of their own choosing. They learn through play, and they work hard at it as they negotiate with children of various ages, learning how to communicate their feelings and needs. Teachers and students explore new ideas together through field trips, conversations, research, and trial and error. The community creates its own rules through group discussion and consensus building, while each person learns how to lead and how to listen. We learn to take care of one another and our world with kindness and compassion. We teach people how to stand up for themselves and one another other. Ultimately “Patchwork” means we have woven together various philosophies to meet the children and the community where we are at. It also means that each day we work to “patch” things together within this unique organization so we can live and learn together. We believe that community is the ultimate goal. If we can learn to become not just independent, but also interdependent, then we can both give and receive freely.

We believe that children must have freedom in order to learn and that learning is a natural process, so children are always allowed to choose if they would like to participate. This means we must let go of our stories of what school “should” look like so that we can meet each child exactly where they are.

We also believe that with freedom comes responsibility for oneself and to one’s community, so that it is not a “free-for-all” but that children learn how to respond to others’ limits as well as the limits of their environment. Children are also included in creating limits and holding one another to their agreements.

We believe in teaching and modeling compassion so that children learn how to lead, how to listen, and how to transform conflict through the use of non-violent communication. These are essential skills for this 21st century world.

Drawing from multiple approaches allows us to organically move through the meaningful experiences that arise naturally each day. Standing on the shoulders of many educators that have come before us, our philosophy is inspired by Reggio Emilia, Humane Education, and Democratic Education as well as various components of Waldorf, Montessori and others.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
Our short-term plans include some wonderful enhancements to space itself, including a new fence out front to create more community gathering spaces near our gardens, a greenhouse in our back “farm” area, new siding for the buildings, and some updates to the kitchen and bathrooms. As for the long term we are working on rolling out some online training programs for educators and parents, allowing others to utilize the incredible modeling techniques that we have developed as part of our Social Emotional Learning Framework (SELF).

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Jodi Ellen Photography

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