Monday, February 9, 2015

Being prepped vs. being prepared

It's Kids at the Capitol Day, put together by Utah Moms for Clean Air. Students from several different schools in the Salt Lake Valley are here, with signs, to send the message to our current legislative session that they're sick and tired of our city's air pollution problem. There are rows of chairs and a podium, the students are asked to sit and the adults to stand at the back of the group. Several legislators who are introducing bills to protect our valley's air quality, are going to speak to the students and the students get a chance to ask questions.

I'm a little nervous. It's not often that Sego Lily School students are required to sit still and listen and we're surrounded by other students who are used to doing just that, all day, every day. Our five students who have chosen to attend this event (ages 5-9) have made signs, they care about the issue, and they're here to make a difference. They take a seat in the front row. One of the legislator stands at the podium and starts speaking. He talks about his bill to upgrade the valley's fleet of diesel school buses. He asks if there are any questions. Three hands immediately shoot up, it's our students. I smile, knowing that whatever they ask is going to be good. “Can we run the school buses on vegetable oil?” The legislator happily answers the question, talking about biodiesel and other alternative fuels. The next few legislators speak, and every time they ask for questions, our students' hands are the first ones up. They ask more good questions, such as “Can we tear down all the polluting power plants and put up more solar and wind power?” These kids know their stuff.

I turn to another educator, a friend of mine, and say “I'm so proud of our students and the questions they're asking!” She replies back to me “Yes, you really prepped them well,” to which I get to answer “No, I didn't!” And it's true. None of these questions were prepped.

Next, it's time for the students to speak. A large group from one of the local private schools stands up in a line behind the podium. Wearing their school uniforms and gas masks for effect, one after the next they present very well thought out speeches with facts and statistics. These kids obviously did their homework. Once again, our students also have something to say. Two of our students get up to speak at the podium. They wing it, they speak from their hearts. They care about clean air. They worry when they have to breath dirty air. It stinks. It's ugly. And they don't want to have to wear gas masks. One of our students, who is barely tall enough to see over the podium from which he is speaking, is being photographed for the newspaper. I look around, adults are listening intently, smiling and nodding.

It makes me think, Sego Lily School students are not prepped. They are, however, prepared. They didn't do homework on the subject, they didn't write speeches, they didn't have to be encouraged to ask questions. Yet, their thoughts are just as compelling and shared with just as much confidence as the students who came with written speeches. Sego Lily School students are prepared to speak candidly on any number of subjects, with people of any age, because they do it every day at school. They ask questions because it's their right, and because they want to know the answers, not because it's a requirement. I'm proud of our students, showing up and making their voices heard in our halls of government. In this moment I know that what we do at Sego Lily School really does prepare our students for the real world.

The Salt Lake Tribune's photos of the event: 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

When self-directed learning looks like going to school... somewhere else

Those of you who know me personally, as well as many who are connected to Sego Lily School through Facebook, this blog, and other avenues, know that my children attend Sego Lily. In fact, were it not for said children, Sego Lily School would not exist. more specifically, were it not for my high energy first kiddo, there would more than likely not be a Sego Lily School.

When Corbin was younger, he was constantly on the move. This of course was challenging at times (ok, most of the time). Mostly, I knew that sitting at a desk was not going to really be his thing. One thought led to another, which led to plans, which led to actions, and voila, a school came into being. Corbin was one of the 19 students who arrived on opening day, ready to play and learn.

Corbin, age 5, volunteering at the Humane Society of Utah

Eleven years later, he asked if we could talk, and told me he wanted to go to a local charter high school that has a film emphasis. My reactions were all over the place: I was excited that he had learned so much about how to achieve his goals that he had found this program without help from me or his father; I was petrified about him going to a school that has had a not-so-stellar reputation when i comes to drugs; I was happy that he was so clear about what he wanted to experience; and I was heart-broken.

Yes, my personal reaction was heartbreak. I couldn't imagine him being somewhere else. I wondered why he didn't want to be at this place I had made just for him. I felt like maybe I wasn't doing enough to support him. I lamented the fact that he wanted to take such a different path. I knew I was going to miss seeing him at school every day. My baby was moving away from me, in a direction that I hadn't expected.

We went through all of the steps we needed in order to get him on the charter school's waiting list, and then we waited. And waited. And called, and waited some more. By mid-January, it was clear that path was not going to happen (at least during this school year). My secret hope was that he would stay at Sego Lily, and take photography classes through the community college, or one of the continuing education programs, but he had other ideas. He has been very clear that he wants to experience what traditional schooling is like, and he decided to enroll in the local public high school. So that is what we did.

Corbin in front of Granger High School. 7am, day one.

It took a couple of days, and some hoop jumping, but by February 5th, he was officially ready to start classes. At 15 years old, Corbin rides the trains and buses all over the valley, and I rarely think twice about it. But letting him walk into a high school, with 3,500 kids? I was probably as nervous as he was. I barely slept the night before, and all day I waited for 2:20 so that I could call him and see how it went. His father sweetly recorded the conversation when he picked Corbin up, and I was able to hear the whole run down, with all of the freshness of telling the story for the first time. He was excited, anxious, worried, happy, and tired. It had mostly gone well, and he was looking forward to the next day (the school has an A day, B day schedule). There was only one major problem...

First period, day one... Sophomore Math.  Corbin has never taken a formal math class. Ever. Oh, and they were taking a quiz when the class started. Finding the angles of intersecting lines. In his own words, "I just wrote down everything from the board in my state of complete panic." I only know that they were finding the  angles of interesting lines because I have now seen the paper they used in class - he could not have told you that was what they were doing. He simply wrote it all down, knowing that I, or another staff member, or his grandmother, would help him make sense of it. He needs to make sense of it, as they have a test on Monday.

So yes, my oldest is no longer attending Sego Lily School. Am I still worried? Of course, he is in an environment in which his voice is not very important, with people who will be really wonderful, or really awful, or anywhere in between, but if they are awful the only power he has is to go tell an adult about it, and hope it gets sorted out. I worry he will fail his math class (I'm not worried about his grades, but I am worried about his self-confidence). I worry he will get lost in the sea of teenagers changing classes. I worry about school violence, I worry about drugs, I worry about bullying. I worry he will get teased for the gaps in his knowledge, and at the same time I worry he will be bored - he already asked, after day one, how someone his age could NOT know about Newton's contribution to the understanding of gravity.

The other question that I have asked myself is this Am I still heart-broken? A little. I have worked so hard over the years to make Sego Lily School available, but I don't only do it for my children. Two of my boys are still here (and the toddler has already begun to say "me school with brothers"), and so are the rest of the students. We are getting more inquiries from new families right now than we have had in years. Also, Corbin is currently planning to return to Sego Lily School for his graduating year in 2016-2017, which makes me smile. He is still on the Odyssey of the Mind Team, and will be competing with us at both state & world finals competitions. I am happy that he is happy, and I miss having him at Sego Lily School every day. More than anything, though, I am proud to have raised a child who is so confident in his choices and direction in life that he is willing to make such a drastic change in his life in order to follow his dreams. I think that, more than anything, symbolizes for me what self-directed learning truly is, and that is why I stand by this model and by his choices.