Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Signal Mountain resident Meredith Ruffner is the new principal at St. Peter’s Episcopal School, and she is rolling out several new initiatives this year.
A second-grade teacher at the school for a decade, Ruffner describes St. Peter’s as “Chattanooga’s best-kept secret.”
“Our philosophy has always been that St. Peter’s is a place that encourages and nurtures kids in all aspects of life,” she said. “We’re expanding the program, trying to give children an opportunity to develop their own unique gifts.”
Ruffner is taking a program she used in her second-grade classroom, NeuroNet, and expanding it to all classes from kindergarten through second grade. She describes the program as a spelling and language development program that attempts to get both sides of the brain working together. The one-minute exercises are done during the first 15-20 minutes of the day and combine movement with listening and talking.
“It gets children neurologically ready to learn,” she said. “It gets the neurons firing so they can learn and focus better.”
Ruffner said the school focuses on providing a very individualized learning experience.
“Our teachers teach differently because the classes are so small,” she said, adding that classes average between 12-16 students in first through sixth grades, with one teacher per 6-7 students in preschool and kindergarten.
She said she sees St. Peter’s as a progressive school, and she is therefore changing certain programs and expanding others to enhance the student experience.
St. Peter’s has partnered with Whole Foods, which now creates a daily menu of healthy options for students to enjoy.
The school’s athletic program is expanding under new Athletic Director Sam Pariff.
“We’re bringing in an international theme,” said Ruffner, adding that students are now playing cricket and lacrosse and have been introduced to free running.
With free running, students interact with the terrain around them, she said.
“It accepts you where you are and anyone can do it,” said Ruffner.
Also new this year is a collaboration between the school and the Creative Discovery Museum, which developed an after-school enrichment program called Destination Discovery held at the school every day from 3-6 p.m.
“It’s a way to extend the learning throughout the day,” Ruffner said of the program, which is held in the natural environment and focuses on guided intentional play.
The camp is very popular and averages about 38 students per day, she added.
St. Peter’s is also expanding its Trailwise program created in partnership with the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center and naturalist and educator Mark Warren. He is now teaching students about primitive societies and the skills citizens needed to survive. In one activity, students had to build a squirrel nest and hide it in the woods, then the next class had to look to see if it was still there.
Trailwise is only for second- through fifth-graders, but kindergarten and first-grade students get their outdoor education as well by learning gardening from Master Gardener Maria Vives Rodriguez.
Email Emily Crisman at email@example.com