Emphasis on academic independence benefits Gill’s Four Winds School amid pandemic

  • Four Winds School enrolls 14 students in its two-room school building at 54 French King Highway in Gill. Staff Photo/Julian Mendoza

  • Four Winds School teachers and Co-Directors Becca Danielsen, left, and Hattie Adastra, second from left, sit underneath the outdoor lunch tent with a group of students. Staff Photo/Julian Mendoza

  • Four Winds School teacher and Co-Director Hattie Adastra assists a student.

  • Four Winds School teacher and Co-Director Becca Danielsen, at right, addresses her students. Staff Photo/Julian Mendoza

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2021 2:52:08 PM

GILL — While many schools around the world have been debilitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Four Winds School teachers feel the 14-student school has managed to stay in its element.

A private middle school at 54 French King Highway, Four Winds prides itself on a curriculum that combines traditional classroom learning with the agency of independent study. The emphasis on building academic independence and time management skills is what teachers and students say has helped everyone fare well during the pandemic.

Staffed by teachers and Co-Directors Becca Danielsen and Hattie Adastra, Four Winds enrolls students in grades five through eight. Danielsen and Adastra meet independently with each pupil to plot out a biweekly plan.

“Every two weeks, students meet with their teachers to create academic goals in the following subject areas: geometry, reading, writing, vocabulary, Latin and math,” Four Winds’ website explains. “At the end of this period, students assess their progress over the previous two weeks and set adjusted goals for the next biweekly.”

“I feel like there’s a little more space to get on track ... because they’re able to learn at their own pace,” Adastra explained.

Students and teachers agreed that this system has generally been of great benefit during the pandemic, a time when the communal nature of a traditional classroom setting has been inhibited.

Although there had been brief periods of isolation where in-person instruction couldn’t take place, Four Winds was able to maintain in-person operations most of the time. The school adopted a hybrid model before eventually returning to fully in-person instruction this spring.

Even with the two-room school building filled, Four Winds retains an intimate community environment. For some, this helps instill in students what Danielsen called “a confidence in their own ability to learn.”

“It has been amazing help,” said Raini Ray, a 10th-grader, teaching assistant and former Four Winds middle schooler. “I have severe social anxiety, so I really struggle with big crowds. This community is so welcoming.”

Adastra said the students’ states of mind are a priority for staff at Four Winds.

“I think the most important thing here is that mental health and social skills are important here, which is especially important at the middle school age,” Adastra said.

Although its cap of 14 students is small compared to most schools, Four Winds is actively seeking applications as eighth-graders graduate. For more information, visit fourwindsschool.info.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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