What do an Italian-originated system of learning, a Baltimore charter school and Salus University have in common? In addition to the obvious answer of education, the answer is Ms. Brittany Horne, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at City Neighbors Charter School in Baltimore and the daughter of retired dean of Student Affairs and current director of the University’s Summer Enrichment Program, Mr. Robert Horne, MS.
City Neighbors Charter school is located in northeast Baltimore and is a progressive, project-based, arts integrated, Reggio Emilia school with a mission to provide an extraordinary public school education with high academic achievement for all students. The school follows a system of learning that originated in Reggio Emilia, Italy after World War II. Among other concepts, the schools incorporate the ideas that children must have some control over the direction of their learning; must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, and observing and must be allowed to explore.
In 2014, after Dean Horne requested interested volunteers, a first field trip to Salus University to learn more about the eyes and vision was arranged between class president and then first-year student, Kalie McCartin ’17OD and Ms. Horne. Ms. McCartin planned and organized the first visit, writing up an educational plan with several vision-related topics that could be discussed with children and arranging for fellow student volunteers. That visit included a stint in the Clinical Skills lab for the students who each had a chance to play optometrist.
In May 2015, the students came to Salus again and, building on her 2014 experience and with help from fellow student Omar Munshi ’17OD, the “curriculum” for the day expanded.
Community outreach is a particular hallmark of Salus and the opportunity to host children for a day of discovery is a Salus community affair. In addition to student volunteers, Ms. McCartin noted that Lawrence Walsh, associate director of Admissions, was instrumental in securing items for the “goody bags” and lunch the children received.
Ms. McCartin explained that a classroom was reserved for the students and she and Mr. Munshi worked on a PowerPoint presentation, with various topics that “involved them in some great discussions. We then took them into the clinical skills lab, where we broke the students into small groups and they took turns playing optometrist like the previous year.”
This year Ms. McCartin, who wants to specialize in vision therapy one day, also dilated one of her eyes “so the children could see examples of when the pupils don't react properly to light.” She explained, “With an eye dilated, I was also able to sit behind the slit lamp that was connected to a television screen so the children could see the back of my eye as Sophia Malani (’17OD) pointed out the landmarks on the retina (blood vessels, optic nerve, macula, etc).”
This experience was exactly what their teacher had hoped it would be for her students. “Since we are a project-based learning school, we truly believe in natural curiosity, allowing problem-solvers and deep thinkers unlimited time to investigate and learn about a topic as well as authentic field experiences, like the trip we took to Salus,” noted Ms. Horne. She further explained that the unit of study starts with a thought provoking question that through exploration will be answered. The children in her class developed the question, “How do our eyes make the visible, visible?” “How do our eyes make the invisible, invisible?” and “How can humans see the invisible?” “We also did a lot of thinking routines and reflections exercises after our visit to Salus in order to facilitate the deep thinking that needs to occur during these projects,” she noted.
What followed a discussion during lunch that day was a natural progression of the curiosity and enthusiasm of the students that resulted in “the amazing Kalie and awesome Omar” visiting the Baltimore school, according to Ms. Horne. Two weeks after the children’s visit, Ms. McCartin and Mr. Munshi traveled to City Neighbors Charter School in Baltimore to help the students dissect cow eyeballs. “Working with Kalie and Omar gave our students the opportunity to work with optometrists and equipment that allowed them to investigate their question and ask more questions.”