The Independent Day School

Centers of Excellence at IDS

As educators of young people, we cannot know everything about the future in which our students will be living, learning, and leading.  Yet, we joyfully accept our responsibility to prepare them to lead fulfilling lives in a world that will require them to be intellectually ready and distinctively skilled to address challenges, solve problems, and invent new approaches.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning cites global awareness, environmental literacy, creativity and innovation, problem solving and critical thinking, and the use of innovative digital tools as essential skills for the new generation of learners who will lead our world in the 21st century.  

At IDS, we are committed to offering our students a full array of opportunities to become well-prepared and highly educated for the future.  In 2016, we created the IDS Centers of Excellence to shape our classroom and co-curricular activities to provide young people with engaging, relevant learning experiences that build their 21st century skills.  An effort of our Strategic Planning Committee for Curriculum and Professional Development, the four Centers of Excellence – Environmental Literacy, Global Citizenship and Cultural Studies, Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship, and Creative Arts ­­­– were formulated based on IDS’ strengths and unique resources to support curriculum connections across all grade levels. The Centers of Excellence provide vehicles for collaborative faculty work focused on curriculum alignment and innovation and excellence in teaching and learning. 

Beginning in 2017, we established a yearlong effort to make the most of our resources by bringing the work of our entire learning community to one of the Centers.  We began by celebrating 2017-18 as the Year of Environmental Literacy, followed by the Year of Global Citizenship and Cultural Studies in 2018-19.

Driving force behind the Centers of Excellence:

  • Research on 21st century skills
  • Strategic plan for the future of The Independent Day School
  • Commitment to innovative, relevant curriculum
  • Unifying structure for curricular, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities across grade levels
  • Value of hands-on, experiential learning 

Center for Environmental Literacy

Stewardship of planet Earth’s resources is one of the most important issues of our time.  Children who learn to appreciate the natural world, develop analytical skills to inquire about environmental issues, and build awareness of society’s impact on the environment will become the environmental scientists, entrepreneurs, and activists of the 21st century.  IDS Environmental Literacy programs offer students 33 natural acres to explore, study, appreciate, and care for the environment while learning about local environmental concerns and natural resources.

UNESCO’s vision for worldwide environmental education that leads to the development of an environmentally literate citizenry provides a lens for Center for Environmental Literacy curriculum and activities to teach IDS students the skill sets they will need to not only take individual action but to participate in decision-making that will have a positive impact on their lives, their communities, and the world beyond.

These skills include:

  • Questioning, analysis and interpretation skills
  • Knowledge of environmental processes and systems
  • Skills for understanding and addressing environmental issues
  • Personal and civic responsibility

Curriculum must be grounded in the real world, connected locally, and integrated across disciplines from natural science to social studies, to the arts and humanities.  We envision IDS graduates who take an active and passionate role in supporting and sustaining a healthier planet.

As we began the work together, our school explored and implemented ways of becoming a greener school and considered the pursuit of a formal designation as a green school.  During our 2017-18 Year of Environmental Literacy we engaged all IDS students, faculty, staff, and families in the 4Rs – reduce, reuse, recycle, repurpose – across the curriculum and across the school day and year. We set up recycling centers in each of our buildings and began composting waste material.  The student Green Team launched widespread awareness campaigns such as “One Less Straw” and “Change the Margins”.

The continued focus on the care of and use of our nature trail included recently submitted grant to fund the development of a web-based curriculum about the animal and plant life on the trail that can be used by families and students help connect the sustainability of our beautiful trail to larger environmental issues in our region. 

Our plan in 2019 is to build a yurt-style outdoor classroom – the Spencer Mugford Center for Environmental Education - that can be used by all grades in all four seasons and can serve as a centerpiece for our commitment to environmental literacy. Our hope is to surround the center with a vegetable garden, a flower garden, and a small orchard to engage our students in agriculture and horticulture.

Center for Global Citizenship

Young people who recognize that they can be active participants in a global world learn to work collaboratively with individuals from diverse cultures, with diverse viewpoints, and varied life experiences in a spirit of cooperation and appreciation.  As students develop self-awareness they also develop an awareness of others in ways that provide opportunities for empathy, compassion, and respect for differences. IDS Global Citizenship and Cultural Studies programs give learners opportunities to develop knowledge and skills to be effective intercultural citizens and to explore languages and cultures to develop an appreciation for our big, beautiful world.

Grounded in the IDS mission to inspire curious, confident, connected learners and our core values of empathy, compassion, respect, our students will experience classroom and schoolwide programs and opportunities to develop their understandings of the world in which we live and their place in it.  Students of all ages will be actively engaged in exploring the school community, their local communities, our nation, and the world.  Most importantly, we hope that each child will see that they have the power to act and to influence the world around them.

Many students who engage in global education develop keen interests in and passions for specific topics and issues, setting themselves on a lifelong course of academic study and activism for change.  Global education “shows young people that they have a voice. The world may be changing fast, but they can make a positive difference - and help build a fairer, safer and more secure world for everyone.” (

Under the umbrella of global citizenship and cultural studies, students of all ages explore what it means to be an active citizen of the school community, their local communities, the United States, and the world.  In the early grades, students are engaged in learning about the IDS community and their local communities, developing an understanding of the importance of cooperation, collaboration, and leadership in creating a caring, inclusive community.  Middle grades students are focused on the bigger world – history, cultures, geography, climates – and are learning to see how connection and conflict shape and impact our planet.  Students in Grades 6, 7, and 8 are assembling what they have learned about community and about the world to explore the question, “Who am I in the world – and how can I make a difference?”, digging deeper into issues of identity and culture. 

 Our 2018-19 Year of Global Citizenship and Cultural Studies began with a celebration of the IDS community and its rich heritage and diversity.  Faculty actively engage in professional development in cultural competence, reinforce knowledge of culturally sensitive teaching practices and reaffirm our commitment to creating an inclusive environment for all our students and families. IDS teachers will build new units of study that focus on global and cultural studies and will challenge themselves to make connections to grade-level peers in at least one other country through letter writing, information exchange, and technology-based face-to-face conversations.  We have begun growing our learning resource libraries with more current multicultural resources that more closely reflect the diversity of our community and the world and our cultural enrichment activities will center on cultural themes. middle school clubs, Ubuntu and Interact, that are focused on multicultural learning and international issues.  These clubs provide excellence hands-on spaces for middle school students to explore multiculturalism and global concerns.  

As we move forward we hope to equip our Center for Global Citizenship and Cultural Studies with a small language lab to provide students with space and resources to tackle languages beyond Spanish and improve technology capability for facetime chats with students around the world.

Center for Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship

Young people who have opportunities to create worthwhile ideas, make decisions, and work with others to build viable solutions to real problems develop the collaboration, communication, and inventiveness that are recognized as essential skills for success in tomorrow’s complex world.  

A learning platform built on design thinking and entrepreneurship provides a powerful vehicle for project-based learning that seeks to investigate and grapple with engaging, authentic and complex challenges using a clear approach for collaborative problem solving and the discovery of new ideas and opportunities. The September 2015 issue of Harvard Business Review, devoted entirely to the topic of design thinking, offered

IDS Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship programs provide students with hands-on activities through which they can explore, test, build, innovate, demonstrate, and take pride in their creativity. The process by which problems are investigated and new opportunities realized, calls for the application of several essential steps. These include understanding and conjecturing about the problem, observation, defining the problem, ideating, prototyping and testing; all working together cyclically to create a method of resolution that is as effective as it is innovative. Divergent thinking capacities of flexibility, fluency, elaboration and originality are essential student mindsets that create products that serve as summative solutions to the problem at hand.  As a result of their participation, IDS students excel in the creative application of content knowledge, critical thinking, teamwork, communication, and collaboration. Students can be fearless because they are supported with a social-emotional environment that promotes risk-taking, reflection, and perseverance.

Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship Skills and Mindsets

  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Construction and tool use
  • Divergent thinking
  • Inquiry
  • Problem solving
  • Inventiveness
  • Team work
  • Perspective taking
  • Production and presentation

IDS creative spaces – Maker Lab and Tech Lab ­- work together to form a highly energized setting where students work in tandem to identify problems, negotiate options and fashion solutions. There are no sidelines in these studios, as every student rolls-up their sleeves and eagerly enters the marketplace of ideas with the goal of helping to build that “better mousetrap.”

The Labs are safe, purposeful environments that support open and collaborative brainstorming and recording, blueprinting and 3D design, and culminating project production. 

The presentation of the culmination products to the school community give students the chance to obtain feedback and to learn from the larger school community. Student design projects can be found on display around campus in the form of our wooden icosahedron and the giant wooden FEARLESS installed in our center courtyard. Students have also designed and constructed musical instruments, drafting tools, bird houses, and bridges as well as designing and executing technology-based publications like the school’s yearbook, literary magazine, and theater posters.

As we launch the Year of Design Thinking and Entrepreneurship in 2019-20, we plan to work with Junior Achievement to provide every child with financial literacy education, launch schoolwide design experiences, engage students in redesigning school spaces, tackle design thinking for social change, and many other activities that will result in student growth. 

Center for Creative Arts

Children who have the opportunity to actively explore the creative arts in all its forms – music, theater, design, and visual arts – not only develop a deep appreciation for the artistic process but also build confidence and skill in producing and displaying their own creative pieces.  IDS Creative Arts programs provide children with challenging opportunities to express themselves in an encouraging, celebratory learning environment.  Learning to explore and present one’s own ideas in visual art, music, movement, speech, and theater helps all students reach the ultimate goals of the creative arts - self-awareness, self-expression, and self-confidence.

The reach of the Creative Arts extends into most every classroom most every day. Whether it is making a presentation about research, drawing an illustration or other aid in support of a project, reading aloud from a story or a play, crafting an artifact for a presentation, role-playing an event or character, engaging in debate with peers, painting a creative mural, or just dialoguing ideas about the topic at hand, IDS students are creating almost constantly.

In fact, IDS students create so often that they frequently don’t even realize it, transitioning from the smaller off-stage moments to the spotlight show-stoppers without a second thought, from a major art piece to a small sketch alongside a paper without even acknowledging the step.  It is this ubiquitous presence on our campus that makes the Creative Arts a true “center” of what we do and is certainly one of the historically most important and significant forces in establishing our culture of excellence, confidence and humility.

Student growth through creative arts

  • Increased skills in the traditional Creative Arts
  • Focused and formal growth in public speaking and rhetorical skills
  • Increased talents as drawers, painters, sculptors, etc.
  • Reinforced sense of imagination, curiosity, inventiveness, resourcefulness, vision and originality
  • Heightened confidence in front of audiences
  • Deepened understanding of culture and history through the arts



The Center for Creative Arts at IDS include:

  • Seven times each year, IDS students performing on the stage in their annual class plays.
  • Winter and spring concerts to hear the students sing and play, perform in the band and ensembles such as Jazz Band or Chamber Music, and sing in chorus.
  • Our annual talent show, dance contest, presentations at All School Meeting presentations, Middle School musical, smaller venue performances from our theatre classes are community-wide celebrations of the performing arts.
  • Students visual art work is displayed not only at the Durham Fair and in a variety of shows in the local community, but also every time we walk down the hallways or around campus.
  • All IDS students learn to play the recorder in Grade 3 and choose a band instrument in Grade 4.Instrumental lessons are offered during the school day and students may also take after school private lessons for an additional fee.All IDS Grade 4, 5, and 6 students play in the school band and all middle schoolers belong to either chorus or band. Many of our students choose to participate in both!
  • Last year, three of our 5th graders were selected to sing in the all-state Elementary School chorus and performed at the Connecticut Music Educators Conference in Hartford.
  • IDS middle school students audition for Connecticut’s regional music festival and the vast majority are selected to perform in the regional ensembles.For the past several years, IDS students have been selected for first chairs in band, jazz band, and orchestra.
  • At another level, the eighth graders lead All School Meeting and seventh graders take over Middle School Meeting, both important steps in their learning as public speakers and student leaders.
  • The History Bee, Geo-Bee and Debate Club/Mock Trial provide three more chances for students to be in front of an audience demonstrating their best.
  • Our Roman Forum, Immigration Fair, Connecticut Games, Native Studies Fair, Invention Convention, and other well-established projects also are highly engaging opportunities to share creative work for both the students and their audiences.

As we grow the Center for Creative Arts, we hope to establish more gallery spaces, a greater number of cross-curricular and cross-graded creative activities, expand after-school programs in the Creative Arts, renovate our art studio, and disseminate our artistic products to make our learning spaces more beautiful and inspiring.

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