Nancy Retter seems to have been destined to become an educator.
“Being a teacher seems to be a genetic disorder in my family. On my mother’s side, all of my grand aunts were teachers, my mother was a teacher, and of my five brothers and sisters … we all taught somewhere even if it wasn’t in an academic setting. My father was a teacher, and on his side of the family there are quite a few more teachers, so there seems to be a gene for it, and I haven’t found a cure,” she says, jokingly.
The founder and director of Renaissance Village Academy, Retter has spent most of her life in education. She taught in the public school system for nearly 20 years, all the while dreaming up her version of the perfect school. She opened the doors of RVA in the summer of 2010. The name, Renaissance Village Academy, took her about three years to come up with; and she says each word has meaning to her and to the concept of her school, designed “for the gifted and profoundly gifted.”
Her pattern of success is evident in the numerous testimonials she has received from grateful parents who have seen their children blossom in her classroom and beg for more time at school.
“What I am good at is figuring out why the kids [in my classes] don’t understand something, and tracing it back to its root, or origin to find why they are having this trouble,” she says.
L’CHAIM Magazine: Do you find patterns in the students you teach that tend to have trouble with different subjects?
Nancy Retter: There are a few overall themes. One is the real emphasis on how something should be done; for instance in math, many teachers are really big on having kids recite things like multiplication; but they don’t teach the why. And because students are not taught the why, if they forget the pattern or mix up things, they cant re-create it themselves.
One of my mantras is “the rules don’t change in math;” which isn’t true at the higher levels, but at the levels I teach, it is. So, say in 2nd grade, they introduce one digit by one digit multiplication, and then two digits multiplied by two digits, and the kids get it and then they move on. The problem is, in the next level, when they start with multiplying one digit by three digits, and the child, not unreasonably, assumes that this must be different than what they learned previously.
This is the problem with a spiraling curriculum, where teachers spend four weeks on a subject and never return to it that year, when the same subject comes up the next year, students feel like the rules must be different, or they would have been taught about it the previous year.
L’CHAIM: What makes RVA different from other schools?
NR: My school now is all about teaching the kids that I have in front of me; not necessarily teaching based on grade or age level; or in a particular, prescribed order of concepts. There are never more than 12 students in one of my classrooms, to ensure that each student gets the attention they deserve. The closest we have come to that is nine students.
Originally, we were 4th through eighth grade, but I couldn’t get enough students at that level, and they kept graduating! So we expanded the school downwards, and now we are Kindergarten through eighth grade. People who are looking for something different come to RVA because the traditional school model is missing something for them.
L’CHAIM: What does a typical classroom, or school day look like at RVA?
NR: We group our students by ability, so we have multi-age classes. One thing that this does, outside of the academic sense, is it helps with student behavior. For instance, the older kids in the classroom are better behaved when they realize that they are the role models for the younger kids who are now mimicking them; and the younger kids behave better because they don’t want to look like babies to the older kids.
Our school is designed to have no homework, and the way that we do that is we run longer. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, we run 9:15 a.m.-5:15 p.m. and every other Friday. Wednesday and the opposite Friday, we run 9:15 a.m.-3:15 p.m. And when we are on our short days, the kids complain that those days are too short.
L’CHAIM: What about extracurricular activities?
NR: All of our students take two hours of art a week, an hour of piano a week, and we have karate and soccer. We also have a garden that our students work in every week; so there are a lot of things happening at the school.
Renaissance Village Academy is located at 9988 Hibert St., #301, San Diego, CA 92131-2480. For questions or more information, call (858) 564-9622, visit RVASchool.org, or email director@RVAschool.org.
Renaissance Village Academy is part of THE EDUCATIONAL FORUM IN SAN DIEGO, 9:15 a.m.-4 p.m. April 25 at La Jolla Country Day School, 9490 Genesee Ave., La Jolla, CA 92037
“How did Yakov become Jacques in French, James in English, and Diego in Spanish? Are such language changes random or predictable? Using a diagram of the mouth, you’ll learn where and how each sound is made, from bilabials to glottal stops, from plosives to fricatives. After discovering the minimal consonant pairs, you’ll explore how those pairs allow linguists to work backwards to determine when languages split from one another. Finally, you’ll compare passages in Old English, Middle English, and Modern English, as well as learn the linguistic basis for tongue twisters.”
The Educational Forum is a free event open to all families and students wishing to explore pertinent educational issues & opportunities. Experts in a variety of educational areas will present & answer questions. To learn more and to register, visit www.scholarsearchassoc.com/index.php/coming-events/2015-events-u/san-diego-2015.