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He started the Four Winds School in Gill, a private middle school that lets students plan how quickly or slowly they want to move through a set of material. Hussey sits down with each student every two weeks and lets [them] decide how far to go in the material. If the student doesn’t get through the work promised, then the student gets less free time during the next two-week period.
“The whole point of the school is each kid starts at a level that they need to start at and works at their own pace. It’s not surprising if you have 10 kids at nine different places in math,” Hussey said. “And the beauty of it is, it works. It’s been four years now and it has shown to be effective and it works well.”
This year, 8 of the 10 students graduated. Now Hussey is trying to attract a new bunch so the school can keep going. So far, he has five students signed up for next year, so he’s halfway to his goal. “It’s tough for small schools. There has to be a critical number in order to operate,” Hussey said. “I really believe if I hold on we’ll get through.”
The hard part for Hussey is getting the word out that his school exists. “If I can just get people to walk in the door, I can sell the school because I believe in it. The problem is just getting people in the door,” Hussey said.
Unfortunately for him, a similarly named charter school in Greenfield opened recently, causing confusion and headaches for Hussey and his students. Since Four Rivers Charter [Public] School opened, he said the number of phone calls from people asking him what kind of school Four Winds is has dropped severely. His students have also complained that when they say what school they go to, everyone thinks they go to the charter school.
His solution – change his school’s name to Four Winds School at Barton Cove. “It’s a minor change, not real big change, but the charter school has been a real problem for me because the name is so close,” he said.
Four Winds will have an open house this week on Thursday from 7 to 9pm and Saturday from 10am to noon to show people what the school is all about and talk about the theme for the year. Each year, Hussey choses a theme and arranges the curriculum around it. “When I’m choosing a theme, I’m first of all looking for something that inspires a broad range of potential topics to focus on,” Hussey said.
This past year, the students studied 20th century America. The course culminated in a mock U.S. Supreme Court hearing with special guest Buz Eisenberg, a local lawyer, playing the part of chief justice. The case was about whether it is unconstitutional to lead students at public schools to say the Pledge of Allegiance as written to include “under God.”
Three students played the judges hearing the case along with Eisenburg and the rest of the class split into the lawyers pleading either side of the case. The mock trial gave the students a chance to practice public speaking, learn to think of quick responses to unexpected questions and to show off for their parents. The “judges” dressed in blue robes and “lawyers” wore suits and opened brief cases that carried the statements they prepared by researching law cases that would serve as presidents.
Cheryl Manning is the mother of Parker Manning, who played one of the lawyers in the trial. She was impressed by the way the students argued their case. “They were very intelligent. They used very good arguments,” she said. She said this is the kid of activity that impresses her about the school. They are taught in small classes and when they do things like this, everyone gets to participate. “I love this school and he likes it, too,” Cheryl Manning said. “He can learn at his own pace and they push him. The more he does, the more they expect of him.”
Kristina Streeter-Gelineau’s son, Lucas, also played one of the lawyers. “It was very good. It was exciting to see the kids get up there and stand their ground in front of a knowledgable man,” Streeter-Gelineau said. She and her husband, Edward Streeter, said their son hated going to school until he transferred to Four Winds. Now, he seems to love it. “For us, this experience has been very good. Two years ago, our son would have never thought of standing up in front of the class. Steve has really taken him from being very timid to being confident and determined,” Edward Streeter said.
Next year, Hussey will focus the course plan on how western civilizations came to be the dominant civilization. The students will talk about engineering innovations, medical innovations and socio-political events. Hussey is basing this theme on a book called Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. “I think it’s going to be a blast,” Hussey said.