By Hope Katz Gibbs
When singer, actress, and former “American Idol” winner Jennifer Hudson came to the Namaste Charter School in Chicago, it was a dream come true for the students.
At a school that sets itself apart from other schools by taking a holistic approach to education, this was one of those teachable opportunities—not to mention a “pinch me” moment.
After all, the philosophy at Namaste is to help students achieve optimal academic performance by nourishing and stimulating the mind and the body of each child.
It’s something that Hudson has long believed in. And now that she’s also the spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, teaching kids to love and take care of their bodies makes connecting with Namaste an ideal pairing.
The Namaste Philosophy
The public elementary charter school is located on the southwest side of Chicago in McKinley Park. Celebrating its eighth year of service, Namaste currently serves 450 students in kindergarten through 8th grades.
“Our fundamental belief is that all children possess the attributes necessary to become healthy, literate, and life-long lovers of learning,” explains the school’s director of development, Alison Isaacson. “Children’s learning is facilitated through investigations, interactions, and instruction that are intellectually challenging and developmentally appropriate.”
In fact, research shows students who are healthy and active perform better in the classroom. That’s why Namaste integrates physical fitness and nutrition as core components of its rigorous academic curriculum to provide a learning environment that is often difficult to attain, especially in inner-city schools.
“By breaking down the barriers to good health and improving opportunities for high academic achievement, Namaste can help each and every student know and reach his or her true potential,” Isaacson insists.
Namaste provides support and opportunities for children to acquire the skills, knowledge, and understanding they need to thrive academically and socially, find personal health and fulfillment, and take responsibility as productive members of their community.
The curriculum is aligned with the Illinois State Learning Standards, but goes beyond the standards through the development of a comprehensive framework that ensures the children make connections in their learning, develop the confidence necessary to think critically and independently, gain an interest in seeking solutions to their own problems, and realize a love of learning.
All of this is encompassed by a daily focus on health, nutrition, and physical fitness.
Consider these areas of the Namaste Charter School’s core curriculum:
English/Language Arts: Using a balanced reading and language arts curriculum, the framework emphasizes extensive integration of reading and writing. Children are engaged in listening to read-alouds as well as making connections to literature through shared, guided, and independent reading; oral language development; and explicit teaching of word study, conventions of print, and vocabulary.
Writing: Through shared and interactive writing (a focal point of the primary grades), writing workshop, and journal-writing, children learn to understand the writing process via a workshop approach to reading and writing instruction.
Mathematics: Namaste’s teachers take an inquiry-based approach to teaching math. The problem-solving focus of Math Trailblazers provides a natural interdisciplinary connection, especially with the disciplines of language arts and science.
Science: The core teaching method for science is hands-on experiences and inquiry. The teachers’ units of study consist of key questions and/or problems to solve, read-aloud texts, vocabulary study, use of the scientific method, and research and problem-solving in order to help students question and make sense of the world around them.
Social Science: Namaste’s mission is to expand students’ understanding of their continually widening circles of interaction—from themselves, to their families, communities, and the world. Topics include a wide range of worthwhile questions and experiences, and include literature, math, art, writing, and scientific inquiry as tools for children to express what they have found out and learned.
Health & Nutrition: This is a vital part of Namaste’s mission. The goal is to promote the understanding and application of the principles of good health and a healthy lifestyle in all aspects of the students’ learning. Topics range from community health to personal health. We aim to raise the consciousness of our students and the local community by involving families and outside speakers in the discussion of health and nutrition.
Dual-Language Program: Namaste offers a dual-language program option for all students upon entering the school. This enables children to obtain educational, cognitive, sociocultural, and economic benefits resulting from intense study of two languages. Classes are taught mostly in Spanish for the first three years, and students of native Spanish, and native English households are taught together to read, write, and speak in two languages.
Physical Education: The physical education program at Namaste is unique. A primary goal of the PE program is to provide students with the opportunity to participate in sustained physical activity every day in order to develop and maintain a healthy body. In keeping with the holistic philosophy of education embodied at Namaste, the PE program seeks to develop cognitive, physical, and social/emotional growth in our students through the study of movement.
Peaceful People Curriculum: Namaste’s administration, staff, and teachers are committed to cultivating a climate of peace at Namaste in order to facilitate a safe, comfortable, and supportive learning community. A very important policy for cultivating a peaceful school environment is the universal instruction of positive social skills. The curriculum is based on Rena Kornblum’s program, Disarming the Playground: Violence Prevention Through Movement. Four main units include:
- Spatial Awareness: Children learn to protect their own space and respect other people’s spatial needs.
- Self-Control and Stress Management: Children learn to recognize their excitement or agitation level. They learn strategies for calming themselves down and controlling their impulses.
- Managing Anger and Building Empathy: Children learn physical cues for recognizing feelings in others, how to express support for others (showing empathy), positive problem-solving to get their needs met, and strategies for managing anger.
- Pro-Active Interventions and Conflict Resolution: Children learn strategies for dealing with conflict and aggression.
For more information on the Namaste Charter School, visit www.namastecharterschool.org.