Spotlight On: Joan Buchanan Hill, Head of School, The Lamplighter School

Spotlight On: Joan Buchanan Hill, Head of School, The Lamplighter School

2022-09-21T16:07:16-04:00September 14th, 2022|Dallas-Fort Worth, Education, Spotlight On|

2 min read September 2022 — The Lamplighter School is an independent, co-educational day school for students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. In an interview with Invest:, Head of School Joan Buchanan Hill spoke about the school’s unique programs that focus on experiential learning, including a student-led garden and a unique chicken-to-egg business program that is run by third and fourth graders.

What were some milestones for Lamplighter School in the last year?

My focus is always on teachers and students. The first milestone over the last year was COVID-19. Our school did not close throughout the pandemic. During the 2020-2021 school year, 79% of our students learned in person, while 21% chose to learn virtually. When we returned to school for the opening of the 2021-2022 school year, teachers discovered that our students were well prepared for the next grade level. Our teachers said anecdotally that they felt supported through the challenges of COVID-19 and our students had very little learning loss throughout this time.

The second milestone was launching a construction project to improve our campus for students, faculty, and staff. Additional space was needed for classrooms, as well as facilities to support our unique programs including early childhood Spanish program and our burgeoning drama program. I am most appreciative of our board of trustees for having the courage to move forward with these plans despite the challenges of the pandemic.
The third milestone was the success of our Lamplighter Parents’ Association. This organization has been instrumental in ensuring that all goals related to community building were met. We have a very vibrant parent association and they work closely with the school to provide value for the faculty, students and staff. It takes all of us to make school successful for kids and everybody was all in to make it happen.

What are some of the biggest changes in the North Texas academic sector?

The pandemic opened many opportunities for schools to look at technology, so that is a big change. We know families are increasingly more mobile. Will they want education to be delivered in new ways moving into the future? My thoughts are they will. We believe that for early childhood, the social-emotional curriculum develops habits of mind in young children and it also teaches them how to develop relationships with peers. These are important components for success. Technology has not yet evolved to the point that it accommodates building social emotional skills online; however, developing healthy communication and relationship-building skills will strengthen a student’s overall profile. As technology continues to advance and improve, we will be able to offer a more ideal education virtually. It is a little early for the youngest students, but it will happen.

What are some unique opportunities that you provide to your students?

The school was founded 70 years ago by two women from California. These women were far ahead of their time in how they thought about education. For example, they believed that students need experience with gardening so they can discover where their food comes from. They believed students also need experience with nondomestic farm animals because they should see themselves as part of a bigger world, not just as part of their nuclear family with a very narrow perspective. We know that the marketplace is calling for employees who can communicate, collaborate well, problem solve, and brainstorm new ideas. The design of our school has no doors on any classroom. It is very open, which means if you are in class you need to be sensitive to what is happening in the next room. You may have to modulate your voice in a way that doesn’t disrupt someone else’s education. Our students have learned to do these things.

Another unique opportunity is the chicken-and-egg business which has been running at the school for more than 50 years. It is a business incorporated by the state of Texas. Starting in third grade, students conduct research about different types of chickens. They decide which chickens we should purchase and they research which chickens lay the most eggs. In the fall, they set up the entire business, which means they need to buy their own feed, care for the chickens, and then gather, crate, and sell the eggs. The students are shareholders because they put some of their own money in, so they need to determine how to manage the profits distributed at the end of the year. Some of them take their profits but others re-invest them in donations or other interests. These activities help to reinforce and understand business and philanthropy. We believe it is important for students to have agency over their learning and decision-making.

We also have programs working with coding and experiential learning, such as drone operation. More than anything, we want to develop a flexible mindset to address the exponential changes in the world. If you have an attitude of acceptance about that reality, then you can feel capable of solving the world’s problems.

What is your outlook for Lamplighter in the near term?

The outlook is very positive. Lamplighter has traditionally enjoyed partnerships involving science and technology. These priorities will continue. We also plan to expand our fine arts program to make sure students have a rich and robust experience in many types of art including woodworking, studio art, music, and drama. Our new theater arts exploration lab will be instrumental in achieving this. We also want to focus on our core academics of literacy and math because we believe this is the foundation for students to have the skills to solve challenges as they arrive. We want our students to work with others and communicate well, so they can solve problems and to look at problems through a creative lens. These skills will hold them in good standing as they move through a world with climate challenges, scarce resources and the explosion in population. These are the challenges our students will be facing but they are well-equipped to look at them as solvable and not insurmountable.

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