Spring Center of Learning sprouts hands-on education

By on August 3, 2016
Dean Long (left) gives a tour of the greenhouse to Nsunguwe Shamatutu and Eileen Cipriani from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Photos by Michele Walter Fry

Dean Long (left) gives a tour of the greenhouse to Nsunguwe Shamatutu and Eileen Cipriani from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Photos by Michele Walter Fry

Parents have more options when it comes to educating their children than they did 25 years ago, and the now cutting-edge trend in education is “experiential learning.”

Some 40 parents, children, educators, and government workers congregated in the greenhouse at the new Spring Center of Learning last week at 499 Smokestown Road in Denver.

The school’s vision is to “change the destiny of students who are created with a nontraditional style of learning.”

“There’s never been an option for hands-on learning,” said Marian Yoder, director of the center, and one of the founders of Lancaster County Christian School.

Another growing trend is parents becoming disenchanted with public school standardized testing and class preparation for those tests. The center is “much less rigid” and officials believe learning should “come alive” while students can also learn marketable skills.

“The kids learn ‘in the dirt’ and stress-free, to open up their minds,” said Debbie Hollinger, the center’s visionary and resident of the property. “And then they’re like sponges, they don’t even know they’re learning.”

In the fall of 2017, Lancaster City should have a “new independent high school” for about 25 students, she said. This is being organized by a former Lancaster Country Day School educator and will offer “progressive education” and focus on project-based learning. But first organizers need to raise $1 million.

Hollinger and Yoder didn’t want to wait to open the center.

“We’re operating on a shoe-string,” said Hollinger, whose granddaughter was the inspiration for the nonlinear learning center.

“She’s an intellectually capable, nontraditional learner, and her eyes would glaze over in the traditional classroom,” said Hollinger. “In desperation, we needed a nontraditional school for her.”

A colorful petunia cascades out of its container in the learning center greenhouse.

A colorful petunia cascades out of its container in the learning center greenhouse.

The center has been operating with eight students only by word-of-mouth for one school year. They have 15 students for this coming year and will go only as high as 20.

“We can take 20, but we don’t want to go too big,” said Yoder. “The ‘family’ is small here; they get a lot of individual attention and they will come out with job skills.”

The center is for middle school-age students and up. Other nontraditional schools such as Montessori Academy and Susquehanna Waldorf School do not enroll students at the high school level.

But the Spring Center of Learning is different in that it is Christ-centered and the students are “under home school law.”

Yoder worked for decades as a professor in the English Department at Harrisburg Area Community College.

“I always say I can spot a home schooler a mile-off,” said Yoder. “Just the way the children handle themselves, their manners, their way of talking to their parents, and talking to me.

“I remember the day when colleges didn’t want to take home school students. Now they beg for them.”

One of the most popular aspects of the center is the “greenhouse” class. Students engage in plant science including hydroponics, aquaponics, soil growing, greenhouse management, and marketing and sales with their finished products.

The “farmhouse” class is where students get involved in tending chickens, gathering eggs, raising rabbits for sale, and learning the science of food processing.

Other classes offered are grammar/writing, music, literature, physical education, wilderness, art, repurposing, fabric arts, woodworking, photography, pottery, landscaping, yarn arts, and construction.

Even classes such as history and math are taught promoting a love for learning through modeling, training, and guiding students using creative, multi-sensory experiences.

“There is great hands-on hard work and you learn while you are doing it,” said student Elias Weaver.

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