Who We Are
Ren School was founded in 2009 and our work comes from the practice of artists and scientists.
The majority of our school time is spent in exhilarating application, in collaborating with peers, cultivating the need to know… occupations that can be found in a vibrant school environment. In this place, children stretch, explain, revisit, reflect, and extend their reasoning and capacities for life-learning.
Educational Philosophy & Design
Enduring Questions and Case Studies
When topics contain opportunities for multiple investigations (case studies), several things can happen. We explore enduring questions that have long-life relevance. Larger ideas unfold, pertaining to different times and places, more like the lives our children will live outside of school, across multiple career paths, and beyond our ability to guess the future. Case studies provide options for groups and for individuals while adhering to a larger conceptual framework, thus recognizing the part-to-whole and individual-to-group relationships that make us a strong learning environment.
Motivation and Interest
Children are able to select areas that pertain to, or ignite, their interests. Each case study adds to the definition and fuller evolution of the main concepts. Children have a reason to share and engage in dialogue using comparison, contrast, parallel issues, and analogies, all high levels of thinking and expression. Collaboration becomes centered around essential ideas and questions rather than limiting discussion to simple fact-checking. Over years, children’s contributions and archives allow for a greater depth which propels us into extensions and questions beyond a basic “coverage” of material. Greater understanding of an enduring question is generated and revisited with the addition of each new case study.
Expectations and Assessment
Guidelines and expectations are used as floors rather than ceilings. The achievement of high expectations rests on the faculty’s commitment to ensure that each child develops intellectual competence, passion, and power. Teachers working in this manner consistently ask, “Is this a sufficiently high standard for this child?” Academic challenges are set at a personal level for each learner and children are drawn in, through inspiring examples and provocation, to help establish questions and evaluation criteria, critique and sculpt processes, and reflect on results.
Writing captures and conveys the human experience for audiences intimate and immediate as well as those yet unknown in our future. In the Renaissance community, reading and writing are integrally related. Literature sparks our imaginations and incites our power with words… and our own writing process allows us a glimpse into the struggle and strengths of published authors. Children and adults use writing to express ideas, information, and emotions. Learning to write is an exhilarating process as young authors realize that marks on paper carry meaning, representing words and ideas, and that others can decode meaning when a common code is used!
Design technology is not a program; it is an approach embedded in a world of inquiry with multiple pathways, entrances, and exits. It honors questions and becomes a lifestyle. Our children don the mantles of designer, scientist, and engineer, observing what is, imagining what could be, building with minds and hands, with materials and tools, creating confidence and competence in their current world, and preparing for vigorous engagement in their future.
Renaissance children study environmental, life, earth (geology, geography, space), and physical sciences. Through design technology (engineering) they use and test notions of material and structural sciences, energy systems, and elements of design that are foundational to scientific thought and technological innovation. In this multi-layered manner, our young scientists use technology and a wide variety of resources to challenge, deepen, and extend single source data.
Our community is deeply committed to developing responsible, critically-literate global citizens who understand the significant role of humans on our planet and who proactively participate in their communities, nation, and world. Our children engage in the arts, humanities and social sciences through the integrated study of history, literature, art, economics, sociology, and government.
Mathematics is another way of exploring and making connections. From the beginning, in all mathematical work, children explain and justify their processes and answers.
Strong mathematical thinkers develop abstract thinking capabilities, (acting on information without visual clues). In more complex projects, young mathematicians apply skills to real life math problems they define for themselves and express mathematical thinking through models, illustrations, and stories. Renaissance mathematicians solve problems arising in everyday contexts, whether describing the movement of essential elements, ordering and budgeting for materials in an engineering project, planning a social event, or analyzing a statistics question arising in the community.
At Renaissance, we strive to create a blend of humanities, analytical sciences, and physical movement. Movement and exercise for healthy bodies and minds are integrated in a variety of ways, depending on age level and time of year. Informally, movement is built into the course of the academic day, throughout the year, as children venture out to find materials and utilize different spaces for learning and independent work. Children naturally move between studio, literacy, snack, story, and numeracy, before lunchtime. Some children “take a stroll” (and absorb ideas from other classrooms) when they need a “brain break.” Others find refreshment in standing, rocking, or wiggling as bodies need a change of position during work periods. In the classroom, physical movement is often choreographed as a key strategy to understand and integrate concepts. Each week, classes are assigned time in the ballroom with a specialist for movement, cooperative games, and/or dance. Performance groups include hip-hop, tinikling, modern dance, Irish step dance, and poi. Exploratory classes include all of these along with ballet, run club, and outdoor games.
Director, Ph.D.Susan Dunn earned her doctorate in science education from the University of Northern Colorado, administrative certification and a graduate degree in elementary education from Portland State University, and undergraduate degrees in fine arts and elementary education from Western Washington University. As a classroom teacher and elementary principal, Susan has worked with children from 3 to 14 years. She has worked extensively with teachers as a Director of Staff Development/Curriculum/Evaluation, and with undergraduates and graduates as a university/college faculty member. Her work with children is based on a background in cognitive development and a passion for deep learning that draws together childhood and the development of skills needed in a future we cannot yet know. Susan’s work reveals a respect for collaborative inquiry, reasoned risk-taking, and reflection.Director, MASally Wells earned her undergraduate degree in elementary education and a graduate degree in Curriculum/Instruction, both from the University of Oregon. As a classroom teacher, her work with children ages 5 to 11 is centered on inquiry, capitalizing on the child’s natural curiosity, and empowering the learner in decision-making processes and reflection. Sally’s love of literacy is illustrated daily in her engagement with the writing process as she collaborates with youngsters to consume and produce text. Her passion for the rich tradition of oral story-telling and children’s literature are gifts to each child inspired to stretch the imagination, extending access to ideas and information.Dean of Scholars, BFA, MATAfter a detour through a career editing films, television, and other assorted media, Adam returned to a long-standing interest in education. A lifelong exposure to an assortment of classroom environments and models brought him to study the varied approaches of Portland schools. He came to Renaissance at the end of the school’s second year as a volunteer through the MAT program at Lewis & Clark College, and has continued to be a part of the school’s growth and spirit. Adam’s true passion at Renaissance is embedded in the school’s ability to find ways of harmonizing different areas of study. He believes that by finding creative marriages of ideas, children challenge conventions, create insight, and determine how to shape their own learning. When not engrossed in the school, Adam holds emeritus status at a local yarn shop, where he can be found knitting and weaving. He also enjoys photographing and charting muddy paths in order to plot warm weather motorcycle group rides.Head Teacher, Lower School, MATSarah Gault earned her M.A.T. from Lewis and Clark College after working with children with emotional and behavioral needs in a residential setting for five years. Since earning her degree Sarah has taught all ages from 5-14 in public school settings, through tutoring, and here at Renaissance. As a teacher, Sarah loves planting the seed of an idea and watching it bloom as it cycles back around. Prior to her work as a teacher, Sarah studied neuroscience, chemistry, and biology and earned a B.S. in psychology. For fun, Sarah reads books with daughters Nora and Amaia.Head Teacher, Upper School, MAT, Ed.D.Jenifer Millan earned her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Portland State University, teaching license and Masters degree from Southern Oregon University and undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Sciences from Oregon State University. As a classroom teacher, Jen has worked with children from 4 to 12 years and her passion for science and the arts is centered on inquiry and the child’s natural curiosity to ask questions and seek answers through discovery and reflection. Jen’s graduate studies at Portland State University introduced her to the educational approaches of the municipal pre-primary schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Through these experiences, she developed a passion for documentation and the ways of living the teaching and learning process. Jen’s work with documentation centers on reflection and critical questioning and the ways the work of children and teachers allows for continual growth, reflective practice and insight into explorations, interactions, considerations and experiences. In her free time, Jen enjoys ballet and running.Faculty, MATDana Buttler is a middle school intructor and also serves as our school library/resource specialist. Dana has positively transformed our library system since joining the faculty. She is an accomplished school librarian and classroom teacher and has served over 39 years in the teaching field, in various public and private institutions, as well as teaching in professional education programs at local colleges. Dana’s special interests include reading and writing fiction, reading and writing poetry, birding, gardening, hiking, walking, advocating for homeless, advocating for people with mental illness, and music, especially jazz. Dana’s love for language arts influences those around her, old and young, while her enthusiasm for reading and writing is infectious and inspiring. Come see the work Dana is doing to organize our collection of texts!Faculty, MEd.Amelia is a Brazilian National and has taught internationally for over 18 years. She earned her Masters Degree in Education from Framingham University and is a National Board Certified Teacher in Early Childhood. Amelia has a post-graduate work in Psychopedagogy, researching integrated aspects that impact learning –physiology, social economic conditions, psychology and pedagogy. She holds a degree in Speech Therapy from Brazil where she had her private practice. Amelia’s teaching philosophy is that learning must be fun, purposeful, and relevant. She believes that inquiry-base learning gives children ownership of their learning and builds bridges for future explorations. She has a passion for photography, outdoor activities, indoor rowing, cooking, fairy tales, and writing.Faculty, MEd.Michelle completed her bachelor and master degrees at Portland State University. Michelle has spent her entire profession working at Renaissance. Michelle’s first year with us was as a student teacher working alongside Sarah Gault and Jen Millan. She is grateful to have had such amazing mentor teachers to support her own learning. When not at school, Michelle can often be found spending time outside. Michelle grew up in Southern Oregon and holds a deep love for Oregon’s forests and oceans. In October, Michelle became a student once again, trying her hand at a new skill; playing the viola. The experience has been filled with moments of doubt, frustration, and incredible triumph.Faculty, MEd.Bio coming soon...Faculty, BAKirsten comes to us from sunny California where she attended the University of California Santa Barbara and acquired a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science. Kirsten attended Southern Orange County School of the Arts and studied dance, choreography, and performing arts before discovering her love of science. Being a music enthusiast, Kirsten has been playing instruments like the sitar, guitar, piano, and voice for many years. Studying musical theory, musicianship, ear-training, and sight singing means that Kirsten fills our learning space with her expertise and encourages children to explore their own interests in music and instruments. Kirsten worked as a director of two private learning institutions, harnessing over 7 years of previous experience as an educator. On her free time, Kirsten runs a small, sustainable jewelry and leather accessory company.Faculty, MEd.Bio coming soon...Faculty, MEd.Maggie Prebble comes to us with a unique and interesting background. Maggie holds a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from DePaul University and a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Cincinnati. Maggie spent two years living in Prague, teaching English, and collecting a basic understanding of Czech language. Her special interests include hiking Oregon trails and travel. Maggie has a passion for American history and completed a Congressional internship in Washington, DC for a representative from Kansas’ 2nd district. During her time giving tours of the Capitol Building, Maggie was inspired to pursue a career in education.Adjunct FacultyAllison is an Arts Specialist at Ren School that teaches exploratory classes on all types of art-making, from drawing, painting, and sculpting, to sewing, cartooning, and bookmaking. She also runs choice-based after-school art classes, encouraging her learners to follow their artistic passions. Before coming to Ren School, Allison studied Fine Art and Art Education at New Hampshire Institute of Art. She also taught art to low-income at-risk communities as she believes that access to art is important for everyone and can lead to a happier life. She graduated in 2018 and now lives in Portland with her husband and dog. When not teaching, you’ll likely find Allison creating in her at-home art studio for local galleries, art commissions, and of course for fun!Adjunct FacultyYassine is a Movement Specialist at Ren School and provides classes that are fun, inclusive, and focus on skill development, cooperation, and sportsmanship. He also leads the cross country after school exploratory groups. Yassine holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Community Health: Physical Activity and Exercise, and has experience working with diverse groups, from students with disabilities to elite athletes, and everything in between. Staying active and getting fresh air is a big part of his philosophy, and he has his own business (Wy'east Wolfpack). When Yassine is not working, he can be found racing ultramarathons as a pro runner all over the world. He lives close to the trails w/ his wife, daughter and four pets.Administrative AssistantAmy is our receptionist extraordinaire. Often she is the first face to welcome our children and parents to school each day. Amy graduated from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington with an English writing undergraduate degree. Later Amy became certified in TESOL. Amy used to be a dancer and still enjoys performing arts. She also enjoys hikes, boating, snowboarding — anything involving the outdoors. Amy’s favorite activity is playing with her little boy!