`EMPOWERING kids is scary at first.... I didn't think they could
handle choices - but they proved me wrong," says Sandy Jones, a
resource teacher in Rockdale, Ga., a community east of Atlanta.
Ms. Jones is part of the rapidly growing Foxfire Teacher Network,
and her students are involved in a project sponsored in part through
the Foxfire Fund. As the mountain-based program celebrates its
silver anniversary, Foxfire has become a nationwide model of a
student-centered, hands-on approach for Jones and more than a
thousand teachers across the country.
Jones, who has more than 15 years teaching experience and
considered herself to be a traditional teacher, recently adopted the
Foxfire approach to use with elementary students who have learning
disabilities and behavior disorders. They develop a variety of
skills by stocking and managing a school store and keeping a
loose-leaf ledger. "Working in the store really builds their
self-esteem," Jones says, "and helps them develop life skills
they'll need in the real world."
But she quickly points out that the Foxfire concept and
student-centered approach works with students at any academic level
at any age.
As proof of Foxfire's on child safety. Another group of
elementary students in a predominantly black school in Atlanta
designed a billboard urging students to stay in school.
Kindergartners in Washington State made a video about the fears
children face when they first start school. High school students on
an Idaho Indian reservation designed a calendar highlighting the
legends and historical sites of the area. And high school students
in New York State organized and financed a corporation that sold
discount coupons for local businesses and services.
Staff members note that it takes most teachers, even those who
are experienced, two or three years to become comfortable with the
But some teachers say that becoming a Foxfire teacher is a
lifelong process, since Foxfire focuses on collaborative learning.
Heather Biola, a middle-school teacher in the metropolitan Atlanta
area, says, "There's a certain element of risk involved - you have
to be willing to give up control and help students engage in their
Wigginton agrees. "We know it works, but it's hard. It's not
clean - it's an open-ended, ambiguous process," he says. "All of the
students are no longer on the same page and the question of
(classroom) management becomes a different issue."
The core practices that evolved out of the early publication
efforts provide a guide for instruction, but the approach lends
itself to a lot of different styles and personalities. Teachers are
not expected to teach one way. Hilton Smith, one of the Foxfire
staff, explains: "It's not a formula. Individual teachers figure out
how to 'Foxfire' their own classes, according to their own talents
and concerns and their kids' abilities."
After the publication of his autobiography, "Sometimes a Shining
Moment: The Foxfire Experience," Wigginton was awarded a $1. …