The Newark Center for Creative Learning Does Progressive Education

Featured photo by Caroline Whisner

The first and only school of its kind in Delaware, NCCL emphasizes empathy, critical thinking and fun in education.

Walking into Newark Center for Creative Learning (NCCL) School is like entering another world. Beyond the exterior, which glistens with mosaics, lies a series of classrooms, each one bursting with student artwork and projects. Instead of soulless rows of desks are colorful couches, rugs and tables. But NCCL’s differences go way beyond the school’s vibrant appearance.

The only progressive school in Delaware, NCCL does away with all tests, grades and strict social hierarchies. Learning is project-based, and activities are hands-on and interactive, encouraging learners of all types to not just memorize information but to fully conceptualize and internalize it.

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Rather than give grades, teachers write detailed reports on each student, including their social and emotional growth. With an 11:1 student-teacher ratio, each student develops a close personal relationship with their teachers and classmates, who are in mixed age groups spanning two to three years. The groups interact with one another throughout the day. There is a distinct culture of community, empathy and inclusivity. All-school meetings take place each Friday, where every teacher and student in K–8 gathers to problem-solve, sing and celebrate learning.

At the Newark Center for Creative Learning (NCCL), there are no tests, grades or strict social hierarchies. Rather, the program fosters collaboration and community through project-based learning where tactile, interactive activities encourage learners of all types to fully conceptualize and apply information. Students express themselves through art. Photo by Caroline Whisner.

In addition, NCCL offers opportunities such as the Apprenticeship Program, where older students apprentice at local businesses; camping trips for team-building; museum exhibitions where students present what they have learned through reports, art and experiments to the whole school and parents; and Workshop Week, during which students and staff come up with ideas for classes, from rocket-building and fashion sewing to box fort creation.

The importance of play and fun are underscored as a tool for learning at NCCL. There is also a social justice program emphasizing the importance of tolerance and diversity, as well as the Big Give Project, an ever-expanding charity.

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It all began in 1968, when educator, visionary and mother Ann Brown inherited some money from an aunt. At that time, the concept of community-based schools and what would come to be known as progressive education was flowering. Brown saw a need for this kind of school in her area, and with the help of other parents, she founded NCCL in 1971. “When you teach in this way, you’re listening to the children,” Brown says. “They almost always come up with better ideas for learning than what you’ve got in a book.”

“When you teach in this way, you’re listening to the children. …They almost always come up with better ideas for learning than what you’ve got in a book.”
—Ann Brown

“A child who goes through NCCL comes out with a huge appreciation for community,” says Group 4 teacher and middle school educational director Kate Kerrane. “Wherever they go, they know how to find their people. We see every kid.”

Related: The State of Delaware Schools According to Local Educators

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