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Place-Based Education

“Place-based education is the process of using the local community and environment as a starting point to teach concepts in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, and other subjects across the curriculum.

Emphasizing hands-on, real world learning experiences, this approach to education increases academic achievement, helps students develop stronger ties to their communities, enhances students' appreciation for the natural world, and creates a heightened commitment to serving as active, contributing citizens.’’

— David Sobel, author of “Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities’’

For GUS faculty and students, our campus and the surrounding natural landscape is our laboratory, enmeshed in and inextricable from our place-based, thematic curriculum. Our school was built on this premise, that our 23-acre campus, and the North Shore at large, would be our curriculum’s primary sources for learning. Our spiraling themes emerge from our land, ensuring that the essential questions that frame a year’s study in each grade are always tied to our place and provide students with endless opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning.

Every autumn marks the beginning, or a continuation, of the GUS journey for students. In September students set out - within their classrooms, on our wider campus, and on experiential trips across the North Shore - to discover themselves as learners, rooted from these earliest days in hands-on, curriculum-driven exploration that makes learning real, tangible, and engaging.

These place-based principles guided the intentional design of the GUS campus to be used by students for learning, investigation, and discovery. We seek a campus aesthetic that is both accessible and inspiring, a place where students feel comfortable taking risks, experimenting and, at times, leaving their own distinctive mark. Beyond classrooms and traditional academic pursuits, throughout the day students move freely and independently: they build large forts and tiny fairy houses; concoct “potions” made of grass, dirt, stones, twigs, and water; climb, run, and jump on playground structures; play basketball, gaga, soccer, and four-square; conduct scientific research on our nature trail; and find quiet spaces for contemplation, reflection, and journaling. 

At any time of the year, you will find students engaged in study and project-based work that is connected to the land and the community—both on and beyond the GUS campus—and that is woven into their subject area studies in math, language arts, social studies, science, foreign language, the arts, and athletics. 

The GUS thematic curriculum is built on the intersection of place-based experiences, academic skill development, and social emotional-learning. This type of education allows us to develop students who want to know about their world, consider how they impact it, and determine what they can do to make the world a better place.

Read more about place-based education at GUS in Preschool Director Emily Rabinowitz-Buchanan's article "Place-Based Education at GUS."