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The Seven Hills School

It all starts here.

The IMHO Series examines the intersection of technology and culture. The first book in the series looks as what it means now that our world has become so wired.

Illustration by Jon Krause

The Seven Hills School, founded in 1962, is a model independent school educating more than 390 students in preschool through 8th grade. The school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, with a deep history of educating more than 3000 East Bay students over five decades. Each of these students goes out into the world ready for the next academic adventure, the next community to which she will contribute.

Seven Hills is “a learning community whose mission is to develop the intellect, engage the spirit and foster respect for and responsibility to our world.” And while the school’s community represents diversity in racial, ethnic, socio-economic and family structure terms, all of its members share the belief that unparalleled excellence in early education will provide the foundation for success in academics and life for years to come.

Hands-On Learning

William H. Miller is in his twenty-first year as Headmaster at Seven Hills, his fortieth in education leadership. As he says, “I want our graduates to leave here with a head full of questions, and the wherewithal to answer them.” Seven Hills teachers inspire, encourage and engage – from the preschool sandbox to the middle school science lab - and help their students gain the competence and confidence to discover what they want to know. In the preschool play yard, students wonder and explore, design and build, imagine and solve. This sense of wonder and curiosity weaves through the fabric of each year on campus, and is tied off with the eighth grade research paper. Many months in the making, the research paper is created by each student to answer this simple question: “What question do you want to answer?” Topics range from the Beatles to nanotechnology, from the history of the English language to Vietnam. At Seven Hills, curiosity is rewarded.

All along the Seven Hills continuum, students are poised to dive into the academic challenge at hand. With sleeves rolled-up and problem-solving at the ready, they take comfortable risks and learn from both success and failure. As Karen Malin, Head of Lower School says, “No one begins to walk by sitting in one place. When a toddler is learning this new skill, she will hesitate, stumble, fall down, crash -- and each time she gets up, begins again, and improves her balance, her steps get steadier. Without the opportunities for adjusting her approach provided by failed attempts to walk, she would never make it across the room.  When learning anything new there are bound to be some false starts, missteps, and outright failures before finding the answer, acquiring the skill or solving the problem. It is not the failure itself that inspires the learning, but having enough experience with adversity to know that you can analyze why you didn't succeed, look at options and try something else until the goal is reached. Through this process, children gain confidence in their ability to learn and strengthen their feeling of competence at being able to overcome setbacks in order to reach their desired goals.”

Campus – High- and Low-Tech

The Seven Hills campus, nine acres of former ranchland set back behind Heather Farm Park, is a student-centered environment in which students step out of their 21st century classrooms and along a babbling brook which meanders through campus. On any given day, a visitor might see Shakespeare performed or Beethoven rehearsed; a rocket launched or a volleyball serve perfected. The Julian Rettger Memorial Library has room for quiet, introspective readers and a stage for gregarious story tellers. And the just-finished Hunt Hall, a $7.3 million-dollar building project, includes an expansive gym, state-of-the-art classrooms, wellness center and a 140-seat performing arts space.

Seven Hills is in Year Two of a model iPad rollout program, in which students from Kindergarten through eighth grade use the tablet in age-appropriate ways, to deepen learning. Classroom technology is not a means to an end, not on the class schedule with a start and finish time. Technology is a powerful tool, harnessed by educators who have a thorough understanding of what it can do. As with all innovation at Seven Hills, it is the teachers who lead. Their adoption and customization of technology ensures that it is used in support of the curriculum and maximizes the opportunity for increased differentiation, too.

Seven Hills is a community of parents, educators and students who are committed to lifelong learning. Teachers inspire, engage and reward curiosity. And parents and administrators support educators who value professional development, lead each other and their peers to best practices, and accomplish all of this in a spirit of collegiality.

As an accredited, non-profit institution, every decision goes through a simple filter, “How can we most positively affect our students’ education?”

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Added: 2017-03-07

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