Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Blast from the Past, Part 3

I initially intended to create a weekly post, highlighting older article from the school's archives. Life got in the way (and by life, I mostly mean construction, and starting a new school year!), and this is only the 3rd of these installments. I will continue to post these, but no promises as to how often or how many there will be!

With all of the new students starting with us, it seemed like this was a good article to post. As for the returning students, I note that the challenges of being a "Sudbury Parent" don't go away - even after 11 years of doing this, I still have my challenging moments! With three of my own children at Sego Lily School, I find some of these reminders relevant even today. We did just spend Thanksgiving week with family after all!

"Flashback Kat" - fort building in 2008!

Congratulations! You are a Sudbury Parent! By Jen Schwartz, Staff

Take a deep breath and hold it for a year.”
-Hanna Greenberg, Sudbury Valley School Founder

I think this may be the best advice I have ever heard for parents in a Sudbury model school like Sego Lily School. Starting in any new school is a challenge for both children and their parents, but when you add in the variables that exist in a democratic, self-directed, educational environment, things get even more challenging. Parents find themselves asking all kinds of questions, such as “Why does it seem like he is doing nothing every day?” and “When will she settle down and start doing something more practical?” The answers to these kinds of questions are different for every student, but in the first few months of school the inherent distinctions of a Sudbury model school can sometimes be overwhelming.

September is always a dynamic month at Sego Lily School as old friends reconnect and new students find their place in the social community. This can be a time of making friends as well as discovering which staff members are best to go to with different kinds of questions or interests - such as Hollie for art, Kyle for a trip to the park, and Tara for a great conversation. It is also a time of finding one’s way through the system that is our school - locating the Judicial Complaint forms, sitting through a School Meeting or two, and maybe even making a first motion. We have already had a brave group of folks ranging from age six to eleven beseeching the School Meeting for exemptions to our microwave policy. With all of this activity going on, who has time for academics!

As the fall cools down, so does the frantic-ness of our environment. It is important to note, however, that not an October has come yet in which everyone simply ‘got to work.’ No, at Sego Lily School learning happens in so many ways that it can be difficult to spot. Like a well camouflaged animal, learning moments make themselves noticeable from time to time but are often hidden from our view. If you are waiting for the learning to become familiar - such as worksheets or ten kids sitting quietly in a class - you will more than likely find yourself disappointed. Think of our school as a safari - yes, you may drive right by a herd of elephants and have opportunities to take a myriad of photos, but you are just as likely to be looking through binoculars hoping to spot that elusive cheetah. Remember, though: the cheetah is always there whether you are seeing her or not, just as the learning is always happening.

The good news is that some time during that first year every child finds her or his niche. Maybe it’s the teens who decide to study the GED prep book, the ten year old who wants to be chairperson of the School Meeting, or the five year old who creates the coolest pillow fort ever - they all find opportunities to hear their inner voices telling them the direction to follow. Yes, they learn, but more importantly they find their place in the community and begin to discover their true selves. The second year is easier than the first, and the third even easier than that, simply by virtue of the fact that learning becomes so much more obvious over larger stretches of time. The child who wasn’t reading now tells you what the signs say; the teen who wasn’t speaking to you opens up about a difficult issue she helped handle in JC. You find yourself standing there at moments, wondering how it all happened, but grateful that it did.

So, my advice to new parents: take that breath, and let it out slowly over the course of the year. If you find your face turning purple, talk to a staff member or two. We’ve got plenty of experience and understand the concerns you may have! For those of you who have been around for awhile, I know that the challenges don’t go away. You are doing something unconventional - you are pioneers in the field of education! Pioneers always had it tougher the first year, planting crops for the first time, finding water, etc, but even though year two was easier, it certainly had its challenges! You, too, are welcome to talk to any staff member about your worries if you have them. We are excited to be on this journey with all of your children, and we are thankful for your pioneering spirit!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Oh my, how time flies!

After months and months of construction, inspections, changes, more inspections, and (finally) approvals, we managed to open our new campus on Wednesday, September 24th (at 1:35 pm, to be exact!). It has been a whirlwind since then, as we have settled into our new space, changed our Law Book, helped our four new students get adjusted to the school culture, and done all of the things we normally do around here. Things like our annual pumpkin patch & Cornbelly's trips, lots of chess games, Odyssey team meetings, reading many books, Judicial Committee meetings, School Meeting...

I could go on, but you get the idea. It has been, for the most part, a normal school year around here so far! Of course, 'normal' for us is not 'normal' in most schools around the world. Our staff, and a few students, have spent quite a bit of time this year discussing the differences between what we do, and what most schools do. This is not a new conversation for us, but we are finding new ways to frame who we are as we discuss these differences. Here are a few things that we are highlighting in our conversations:

1. PLAY. We have always known that play is important, and is an integral part of what we do. In fact, even our very early literature contained statements and articles about play. Our December 2003 newsletter (published 9 months before we even opened the school!) contained an article about playing in the snow, and the October 2005 newsletter included an article about a mixed-age four square game that was played at a Sudbury Valley school summer conference. Currently, what we are experiencing is that the world is catching up with us. For example, the International Journal of Play began its' publication in 2012, and the peer-reviewed articles focus on the importance of play throughout the lifespan. Peter Grey recently published Freedom to Play, in which he discusses children's natural ways of learning through play.  We have been using the hash-tag #playmatters in many of our Facebook posts, as play remains a central theme in the activities one can see around our campus every day. Allowing our students, and staff, the opportunity to learn through play is critical to our mission of Learning Through Living.

2. UNSCHOOLING. Yes, we know we aren't technically unschooling, after all we are a school. However, there are MANY similarities between what we do, and what unschoolers do. People in both environments get to choose what passions they are following at any time; both groups agree that learning is not limited to a classroom or the walls of a building; both groups use adults as resource rather than having teachers whose job it is to impart knowledge on the students. What more and more people are discovering is that when you allow the child to set his or her own goals, learning happens at a deeper level. The world of intrinsic motivation and learning (as opposed to the extrinsic model followed in most schools) is where we find true learning, and a desire for a deeper understanding of the world and the 'subjects' at hand.

3. AGE MIXING. It has always been part of what we do, but with our current population we see very clear groupings of 'littles' (4-7), middles (8-11), and teens (12-16). Watching how the 'middles', most of whom were here as 'littles' themselves, interact with the youngest of our students has been fascinating. We recently experienced some of the 8-9 year old students complaining that a new 5-year-old was "too immature" to be a student with us. When we talked to them about what it was like when they were younger, and had to learn how to interact with the school community, many of them could not remember ever being so young! They have all grown more patient and more understanding as our new littles make the transition to being full responsible community members.

The bottom line is that there is nothing new here, and there is SO MUCH new here! We all love having a REAL campus again (last year was quite a challenge!). Being in a space where we can create, that is OURS... well, words can't quite express what that entails. We look forward to enlarging this space and re-growing our community. And we look forward to more conversations with all of you!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Blast from the Past, Part 2

Here is another "Oldie but Goodie" article that was written 10 years ago this summer. Sego Lily School was just about to open, and at the time I was a mother of 2 boys, ages 5 & 3. Corbin, the oldest, was ready to begin his first year of school. I had none of the feelings of elation that Michael Ventre mentions, and I have to say that 11 years later I still don't feel that way when it is time for my 8, 12 & 15 year old boys to head back to school after a long summer. Enjoy my musings, and I will share another article next week!

2008 flash-back: Ebag and his buddy bake cookies in the kitchen.

How's THAT for a flashback smile!

This morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee and an unusually quiet start to my day, I clicked on an MSNBC link entitled “10 songs for back to school.”  It led me to the following article:

Back-to-school beats

Ten songs to accompany your kids’ end-of-summer blues


By Michael Ventre

MSNBC contributor

Updated: 12:46 p.m. ET Aug. 31, 2004

Right around this time of year, sweat starts to pour off the brows of young people, while parents breathe a sigh of relief. School bells are ringing.

The summer is over, and it’s time for students to stop lying around, playing video games or watching television, sending text messages to their friends even though their friends are right in the next room, eating their parents out of house and home, failing to do chores, borrowing the car without permission, hosting a “study group” in their rooms with the doors locked, and looking for jobs only in places that they know are not hiring.

For parents, though, the news couldn’t be much better. The abode is again quiet. The little freeloaders are back in class where they belong. Let the teachers deal with them. That’s what they’re getting paid for, isn’t it? Aside from doing their carpool duty, parental units across the land soon will be dancing in the streets during school hours. In fact, maybe a little reward is in order for enduring a summer of chaos. Dad, it’s probably time for a new set of irons. Mom, even though you already have about a hundred pairs of shoes, a busy lady like yourself could always use a few more.

The article goes on to list ten songs that parents can sing to celebrate the return of their children to school, including “Be True to Your School” by the Beach Boys, and “Rock and Roll High School” by the Ramones.  No harm in the songs themselves, but I couldn’t help but be appalled at the tone of the article itself.  I mean, I know the author was speaking in jest (or at least, I hope there was a bit of jest in there), but it seems to me that the tone and language of this kind of article DOES communicate, and it DOES reach the ears and minds of the children in our society.  I decided to re-write the article, or at least a few bits of it, in a language that I hope will soon reflect not only childrens’ attitudes about school, but also adults’ attitudes about children.

Back to School Beats – Ten Songs to Celebrate the Return of the School Year


BY Jen Schwartz

Sego Lily School Founder, mother of two

Written September 1, 2004

Right around this time of year, excitement starts to build in the minds of young people, while parents look back fondly at the summer time spent with their family.  School will soon be starting.

The summer is over, and it’s time for students to prepare for another year of exploration, creation, and finding their passions.  The summer was filled with many adventures, and of course they never stopped learning, but children look forward to interacting with the friends and teachers that they have missed over the summer.  Yes, it will be another full year of learning, growing, and being supported by a loving and close-knit community, second only to the family that the child will be leaving behind as they go off to school each day.

For parents, the news is bitter-sweet.  Having their children back in school means more time for work and other projects, but it also means that they will be missing out on some of the daily interactions and adventures they have enjoyed so much over the summer.  The return to school is both a time of celebration for what lies ahead, and a mourning of the end of yet another wonderful summer.

Somewhere along the way, our culture started relating to children like a burden, to teenagers as freeloaders, and to school as a place to dump our children and get them out of our hair.  Somewhere along the way school became a place to be dreaded by children, and fall became an end to what was otherwise a great, fun, and adventuresome life (i.e. the end of summer vacation).  So what will it take for our culture to once again relate to our children as our greatest resource, and for children and adults to relate to school as a place in which students further their exploration of the world?  This, I believe, is one of the most important questions in which we can engage.  The answers to this question are the answers to many, if not most, of the problems we face as a society.  I dare us to all begin to answer these questions, and to use our voices to promote positive images of young people in our culture.
Our old apricot tree - fruit, and a place to play!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Blasts from the Past, Part One

When you move, you get a remarkable opportunity to see ALL of your 'stuff'. It's a great time to purge and re-organize, to make decisions (some easy, some difficult) about what is really important. Since we have essentially moved Sego Lily School THREE times in the last year (out of the old building into PODS, out of the PODS into the temporary buildings, then out of those buildings into the actual building), we have done a whole lot of purging. Our yard sale, in July, was a smashing success, and we were able to donate what was left over to another non-profit having a yard sale the following weekend. Basically, we are lighter, cleaner, and the 'stuff' we have left is needed, in good condition, and useful.

Maybe I just got into a purging streak, but I decided recently to clean out a ton of computer files as well. Our office computer has been dragging lately, and it felt like deleting files would be a good idea. One of the things I did was to make sure we had a printed copy of all of our old newsletters, and delete the electronic files. 396 files, to be precise, some of which were copies of the articles that went into the articles, six years of monthly newsletters, PDF copies of said newsletters etc. The printed ones are all available to be read on campus at any time, and the computer seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as I emptied the recycle bin.

While it was a ton of fun to see pictures of the Sego kids looking so young and adorable, the thing that struck me the most was how much writing - and generally really GOOD writing - the staff has done over the years. We have addressed issues such as how the Judicial Committee works, the difficulties of transitioning to Sego Lily School, and the lessons learned in a working democracy. We have tackled politics (especially the politics that surrounded the school vouchers issue in Utah), current events, and world social issues. We have also written interesting, witty pieces on the happenings around school.

 Flashback Photos: Santa, Fireknight, and Ebag in 2008.

In an effort to honor the work that was done, I plan to re-blog an article a week until I run out of articles. Not the ones that describe how great our Spaghetti Dinner was, but the ones that really get to the heart of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. I hope you will all enjoy this little walk down memory lane, and we would love to hear your comments on these articles! I'm starting with an oldie, from 2004. The four year old who is mentioned is now 15, and while he has pursued many activities at Sego Lily School, I don't think he has yet learned how to taste the clouds.

By Jen Schwartz, PhD, founder, Sego Lily School

Ever since we decided to start Sego Lily School, and in fact even before we knew that it would be called Sego Lily School, I have been interviewing children about the concept.  I ask them all the same basic question: “If you went to a school in which you could decided what to do all day, what would you choose to do?”

Now first of all, adults tend to have some pretty definite opinions about how children will answer this question.  They particularly have opinions about how their own children will answer.  Adults seem to think that children will do “nothing”, or that they will “waste all of their time.”  After a lifetime of an education that was directed for them, they can’t see any possibility of children actually wanting to learn anything.  Much more could be said on this point, but I will save that for a separate article.

Children, of course, have very different responses.  And while the response of every child has been unique, there are some common threads. The lines of age seem to divide the responses into general categories and determine the level of freedom the children are willing to embrace.

The oldest children, around high school age, give a very limited and yet opinionated answer to my question.  After many years of traditional education, there is a box in which their answers must fall.  One teenage girl, for example, said, “I would stop taking so many math classes, and focus instead on my writing classes.”  Another teenage boy responded, “I would take shop classes for most of the day, and make all of my other classes shorter with no homework.”  The paradigm of school, classes, and traditional educational structure limits what they see as freedom of choice. Many teens have specific likes and dislikes that they are very willing to express, and yet it is difficult for them to understand that there may be an entirely different way in which to obtain an education.  Schools like Sego Lily School can be especially beneficial for older children, however.  The time and support to identify and pursue specific interests allows for these children to begin to listen to and follow their dreams.

The middle group of children, which I identify as from about third grade through junior high school age, also tend to have definite opinions about what they like and don’t like about school, and their answers reflect this.  One 11 year old told me he would spend his time “reading, working on geometry, swimming, and probably playing games like baseball and football.”  There is a reflection in this answer of the subjects the child enjoys in school, as well as the activities he wishes to pursue.  Another student of about the same age asked me if he could learn to fly airplanes.  When I told him yes, he asked me if it was legal.  We discussed this at some length, looking at what parts of flying an airplane he could learn while in school (studying flight manuals, learning the necessary math and science), and what parts would have to be done outside of the regular school structure (taking flying lessons).  His response to me was brilliant – “For that, I would take math classes all day long!”  I found this to be a wonderful expression of how learning with a purpose motivates people.  His mother had a stunned look on her face. “I thought you hated math?” she asked.  “I do,” he said, “but I never had any real reason to learn it before.”

“Little kids” have the best responses to my interview question.  With no constrictions of what school is “supposed” to be like, or even restrictions about what is physically possible in the universe, they have amazing and creative answers when I ask them what they would choose to do.  Some of the younger children have said they would play house and paint pictures all day, others have wanted to participate in games and learn to use the computer.  Still others have really let their imaginations run wild.  A five year old girl responded that she wanted to spend her days, “Drawing pictures, voting on good rules so that everyone is happy, and going on field trips, like to the mountains.”  My own son, four years old at the time, told me that he wanted to “Do some homework, learn to read, and figure out how to taste the clouds.”  Sure, I’m biased, but don’t you think that’s the most creative thing you’ve ever heard a child say?

Even though there is a distinct difference in the age groups and how far outside the paradigm of traditional education they felt free to look, there is one common thread in every response I have heard.  Not a single child, from age four through eighteen, wanted to do “nothing.”  Human beings are innately curious creatures.  None of us can stand to be bored for very long – we will search out things that interest us, that stimulate us, and that connect us to others.  That is one of the beauties of Sego Lily School.  We provide a space in which people can be fully self expressed while following their hearts.  THAT is why we decided to start Sego Lily School for our own children, and it is why we say that our school and others like it will transform the way children in our culture will relate to the world and to each other.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Time to Start a New Year!

Today is one of those "good news, bad news" kinds of days. Good news, because it's almost time to start a new year. That's always exciting, as we welcome back familiar faces and make news friends. Bad news, because our building isn't quite ready yet. But more good news, because we have some really fun field trips planned to keep us busy until we can get in here and start the new year for REAL.

As I write this, the building is literally SHAKING. The concrete guys are compressing the dirt under what will soon be the last part of our sidewalk. They will pour more concrete over this in an hour or so. They are also finishing the last part of the front driveway.

It's been quite an adventure around here lately. Today, for instance, there are FOUR groups of contractors here. Tomorrow there will be two more. When we are done, we will have a new parking lot, new fences, an extra bathroom, a gorgeous deck, a fire and burglar system, a wheelchair ramp, a BEAUTIFUL landscaping. It's getting easier and easier to imagine what the end result will look like. It's also getting harder and harder to get anything done here with all of the noise, and people asking questions every five minutes. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and in that light I can see the bright, shining faces of our students, as they come back to share another year with us (or start their first year). I know the whole staff is excited to get this project FINISHED, and get going with an exciting school year!

The final street curb & driveway

This hole will eventually be a toilet.....

Miss Caren is putting together a storage cabinet
The ditch has been dug for our sprinklers

Joseph is doing ALL of the miscellaneous work!