Susitna Open Optional is a small "school-within-a-school" located at Susitna Elementary in the western part of the Anchorage School District. We serve students in kindergarten through fifth grades. Our sister Optional programs include: Chugach, Chinook, and Bowman Open Optional, as well as Polaris K-12.
Building a Caring Community and Love of Learning
We believe students thrive in a caring community where empathy, compassion and a sense of personal responsibility are at the forefront of our interactions with each other. From there, we work to help students fall in love with learning by offering opportunities to engage through real world connections and self-expression.
Our school-within-a-school setting allows students to get to know their current and future teachers well. With a relatively small student body (~160 students), Susitna Open Optional has a family feel, supportive of students who might be overwhelmed by a larger setting. Siblings see each other during multi-age activities. Staff members work hard to create activities that are interesting to students at all grade levels, but offer chances for the classes to mix and elder students to mentor the younger ones.
Multiage Family Groups*
Susitna Open Optional Program has seven classrooms, or family groups. Kindergarten through Fifth grade classrooms are multi-age settings, including students from two grade levels: Kindergarten/ First, Second/Third and Fourth/Fifth. Students spend two years with the same teacher, first as a younger and then as an elder. Kindergarten is a single grade class, given opportunities to interact with elders through learning buddies and multiage activities.
Curriculum in the areas of science and social studies are rotated annually to give students a chance to experience all topics that students in a traditional classroom would experience. Teaching teams collaborate to offer grade level math instruction and developmentally appropriate language arts instruction.
As is the case in all Optional programs in the Anchorage School District, Susitna Open Optional uses a student created portfolio and student led conferences to celebrate growth and share student progress with family members. We believe that student self-reflection and assessment, paired with frequent, specific teacher feedback is most effective in supporting student learning. As a result, we do not use traditional grades and report cards. Family members receive regular communication about opportunities for growth and celebrations of success. Student led conferences are held twice a year, in October and February.
Real World Connections
Our staff is constantly looking for opportunities to help students connect the learning they do in the classroom to real world events. Community service projects, field trips, and guest speakers are frequent occurrences. Family volunteers are another way we help students make connections to the broader community.
Susitna Open Optional places an emphasis on social-emotional learning (SEL) and integrates these skills into all subject areas, as well as offering explicit instruction in effective communication, conflict resolution and anger management.
Tailored to the Individual
While we work within the curriculum standards adopted by the Anchorage School District, we have flexibility in the materials we use, the ways that we deliver instruction and in the ways that students demonstrate their learning. Students bring different strengths and opportunities to the table. We work to challenge students in areas of strength and scaffold children in areas of weakness. Collaboration with our teaching team gives us flexibility.
Choices are built into the learning day in a wide variety of ways. Students may be asked to demonstrate their learning through projects ranging from music, public speaking, technological presentations, models, or drama. There are times for working individually, in partnership, in small groups, and with the whole class. Classrooms offer flexible work spaces to meet the task.