Clear Spring School: Phyllis Poe Hands-on Learning Center engages hands and hearts

Thursday, March 5, 2020
Clear Spring School students show off their cookware at the new Phyllis Poe Hands-on Learning Center, where they learn to cook, sew, paint and more.
Photo by Samantha Jones

By Samantha Jones

Clear Spring School is a big believer in learning by doing, and that's exactly what happens every day at the new Phyllis Poe Hands-on Learning Center.

Head of school Jessica FitzPatrick said the learning center houses the Wisdom of the Hands Woodshop program, as well as programs where students learn to cook, sew and create art. The learning center is just a short walk from Clear Spring, FitzPatrick said, making it the perfect location. FitzPatrick recalled the process of renovating the house, saying it started in the garage.

"We renovated this garage into the wood studio and we extended it out here," FitzPatrick said. "Then we enclosed the back porch into the art studio, and our next renovation is updating the kitchen a little bit to put a commercial vent hood in so we can do more cooking with the kids."

FitzPatrick said the school plans to update the sewing rooms at some point, too.

"We haven't done anything to those rooms, but in the longterm we will fix them up a bit," FitzPatrick said.

The learning center is affectionately known as the POE, which stands for "Place of Engagement." Fitzpatrick said she's excited about everything the school offers there, starting with the cooking area.

"Today, they're chopping nuts to make a seed and nut granola," FitzPatrick said. "We call this Little Cooks."

Right behind the kitchen is the enclosed art room. There's lots of natural light there, FitzPatrick said, and it extends the learning center back a bit. But the big extension is the woodshop, FitzPatrick said. The woodshop features two rooms, one larger and one smaller, where students create canes, longboards and other projects. Woodshop instructor Doug Stowe said he loves having a large dedicated space to work.

"I've always had a dedicated space, but this is an improvement for sure because we have more space now for power tools," Stowe said. "It's just a really wonderful space."

Stowe said the learning center makes a "real clear statement" about the importance of hands-on learning.

"We've always had the arts. Now to have a dedicated space to it just raises the profile of the arts," Stowe said, "and the hands-on engagement."

FitzPatrick said the learning center allows for bigger, more elaborate projects, and Stowe agreed. Stowe said the learning center has some pretty high-tech features, like a machine that cuts metal into pre-determined shapes, a 3D printer and more.

"The kids can design something using a graphic program and turn it into a metal fabrication," Stowe said. "If the students are building a robot and need a specific part, they can put the metal in the machine, program it and wait until it's done."

The woodshop also has a large television, Stowe said, which provides an additional teaching tool when it comes to more intricate woodwork.

"Sometimes it's hard for them to see what I'm doing, but with the television, I can show them on TV what I'm doing," Stowe said, "or show them what an expert has done to give them a better, deeper understanding of it."

Some recent projects include skateboards and canes, Stowe said.

"The lower middle school has been making canes for the elderly that will be distributed through the local clinic," Stowe said.

The students can generally take their work home, Stowe said, something that makes learning even more exciting.

"They can see what they've accomplished and take pride in it," Stowe said. "It's something that's tactile and measurable. When you're doing things that are real, the assessment is real. It's not just a letter grade."

FitzPatrick said the students can also take home their sewing and art.

"And in cooking class, they're eating the things they made," FitzPatrick said.

Clear Spring recently received a grant to build and enclose a garden, FitzPatrick said, where the students will learn about native plants and beekeeping. Everything that happens at the learning center, FitzPatrick said, has to do with the experiential learning cycle.

"That's thinking about the discovery of learning, then doing it and then reflecting on it," FitzPatrick said. "So that's the teacher and the student reflecting on what they did, what worked well, what they struggled with and how to improve it the next time."

The learning center has been a welcome addition to the school, Fitzpatrick said.

"It feels great to be here. It has opened up a lot more options for teachers and the integration of our different programs," FitzPatrick said, "and it allows us to do more experiential learning –– to integrate more arts and cooking."

Fitzpatrick continued, "On Fridays, the kids cook a hot lunch that the whole campus can eat. The learning center has improved our ability to do what we do. We like it a lot."

Clear Spring is thankful to the community for supporting the project, FitzPatrick said, and everything else that happens at the school.

"Without the support of the surrounding community, this would not have been possible," FitzPatrick said. "We really hope we get to host more events here, so we can have more community activities that are connected to the school."

Another way the community can learn more about Clear Spring, FizPatrick said, is by attending the annual Clear Spring Fling Auction. The auction will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at the Holiday Island Country Club at 1 Country Club Drive. All proceeds from the event will help Clear Spring with its mission, FitzPatrick said.

"It's a great time to celebrate Clear Spring and for us to thank the community," FitzPatrick said.

The tuition the school charges is not enough to cover the cost of education for each student, FitzPatrick said, so fundraisers like the auction are especially important.

"It's what helps make up that cost of tuition to do all these things. The hands-on learning requires materials and specialist teachers and trips," FitzPatrick said, "and that money has to come from somewhere. This fundraising supports the school doing what it does."

For more information on the auction and to purchase tickets, visit

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