Educators Living Amongst Us
By Lisa Hill
Education begins and ends in the home. Somewhere in
between, though, our children interact with teachers, students, administrators,
curriculum specialists, other parents and the community as a whole. The
concept of learning is global, and it literally takes a village to raise
each of our children.
Imagine living in a town where neighbors look out for all the town's children,
merchants participate in the education process, and teachers live just
up the street from their students. This is how many generations of the
past were raised. This is also now occurring in traditional neighborhood
developments (TNDs) being built all across America.
Many families move to TNDs to get back to small-town America. Karen Smith,
for example, moved to Celebration from Indiana to provide better opportunities
for her two children. Smith's son graduated from Celebration School last
year, and her daughter is currently a senior. Smith herself works at the
school teaching primarily third grade students in her multi-age neighborhood.
The reason she enjoys Celebration so much is that people know one another.
"You can watch out for [other people's children], and they can watch
out for yours. Although children will get involved in things they shouldn't
-- it is a bit more challenging," said Smith. "If they do something
here in town, somebody knows who they are, and word gets back home rather
Part of the small-town feeling is developed when educators both live and
work in the same community. They become stakeholders of the community
and have a stronger emotional investment in nurturing their students.
Not only do they teach in the classroom, they teach by example when they
are out in the community. They frequently get involved in activities that
are part of the everyday lives of the very students they teach.
"When I am [away from school] I try to recognize my students as members
of the community," said Smith. "I don't bring up things they
do at school or bring up homework or projects. School is in a different
time and place, and right then we are members of the community; we are
not members of the classroom."
She has found that this respect is mutual in the community. "When
I go to a ball game, or if I am out to dinner downtown with my family,
parents and students [say hello] but don't ask me to give them an update
as to how their children are doing in school. I have appreciated that
a great deal."
"We all spill into each others lives outside of
school, and that's a positive thing," said Lisa Baird, new resident
liaison for the school. "It's not like you work with someone and
then go your separate ways at the end of the workday. People have to try
a lot harder at relationships, and these relations are a lot better for
In Seaside, Fla., the Seaside Neighborhood School is completely interwoven
with the fabric of its community. Students take physical education classes
on the Lyceum, the open area in the center of downtown Seaside, as well
as on the close-by Gulf of Mexico beach. They eat lunch every day -- weather
permitting -- outdoors on a tented deck adjacent to the Lyceum. And they
swim, play tennis and learn croquet, at the Seaside Swim & Tennis
The school's first building was actually paid for by the community. When
Paramount Pictures made The Truman Show there in 1996, Seaside founders
Robert and Daryl Davis and the Town Council of Seaside homeowners donated
all film location fees to the construction of a new schoolhouse.
The school shares its second building with the Seaside Institute (see
"People Who Make a Difference," page 6). The two are very friendly
"They are very supportive of us," said Shirley Foster, principal
at the Seaside Neighborhood School since June. "When the Institute
has guest performers and concerts, [they] will call and say these people
will be performing Friday night and -- could do something at the school
Friday morning if we're interested."
Even students who live outside Seaside reap the educational and rich quality
of life benefits of the area. Students at the school are immersed in the
community; they are part of much of what goes on and are able to see the
positive things that come of maximizing connectivity.
Loree Zimmerman Dykstra, an elementary school teacher living and working
in Kentlands, Md., has taught school in a variety of locations all over
the country. She feels the biggest benefit to working and living in the
same neighborhood is the ability to see a more complete picture of her
"I gain a lot by watching how the kids communicate with others outside
of the classroom," said Dykstra. "The other day I was outside
with my dog and a few of 'my kids' came by on their scooters. I ended
up getting mine, and we took a ride around the neighborhood."
The next day at school, though, it was back to business
as usual. "They respect the difference between me as the teacher
and me as the neighbor," she explained.
Dykstra feels the teacher/neighbor her students know results in a greater
feeling of security with the kids. These bonds, she believes, facilitate
the education process. "I have a bigger impact on them," she
Dykstra also loves the convenience of being around
the corner from her workplace. She starts her morning at the town center
coffee shop, where she usually sees a number of her students' parents
(past and present). Then it is on to school, sometimes several hours before
the kids arrive. "I don't have that wasted commute time to deal with,"
she said. "I put that time back into my work."
The goal of integrating education into the community is the reason town
planners give the school prominent placement in the town design. Better
schools and innovative educational opportunities sell homes, so it is
crucial that new schools being built are state-of-the-art and offer the
best in educational opportunities. These same advantages are the very
things that attract teachers to the school and the community. And the
range of housing options allows them to live there.
Note: The Town Paper editor Diane Dorney and staff writer Karen O'Keefe
contributed to this report.