… is the one thing we, humans, prize above all else, and the ideology that this country was founded on. Nevertheless, if we are being utterly truthful, we clearly have very little choice in a large portion of the decisions that determine much of our lives. And, when you look closely at those allowed little or no privilege, never mind, a voice or opinion, including: people of color, women, single mothers, LBGTQ individuals, the impoverished, the traumatized, the isolated, rural, and marginalized populations, the sick, and most startling of all, our children - the stark reality of how few options exist for an enormous cross-section of the population is damning.
No! This is not a politically charged post. Except to say that governance should have everything to do with allowing people to live authentically, with common senses and decency – within a culture dedicated to kindness, equity, and above all the freedom to choose the best options (in all matters) for themselves and for their families, without judgment (criminalization), or blame.
As I have mentioned before, many people around the world are choosing various forms of self-directed education (SDE) for their children. Not only are local families flocking to DRC (as indicated by our growing waiting list), it has become a worldwide phenomenon. Kerry MacDonald, an economist and a founder of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, who un-schools her own children outside Boston, MA, has become an important voice for the SDE movement. She has written a book called Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom and she also writes articles for various online formats, as well as renowned periodicals like the Wall Street Journal.
She wrote a recent article for Forbes, entitled - Closing the Choice Gap in American Education, with the image of “mind the gap” that you find in subway and train stations, directly under the title. This particular article and photo caught my eye and my imagination, because here in the NoCo (an enormous geographically, rural area), besides DRC, two Catholic schools, and a small, rural non-public private school, there are no other accessible educational alternatives to the public system. And, now, I just read that St. Mary’s in Canton will be closing at the end of June.
But, as someone recently pointed out, this constricting phenomenon, in impoverished areas around the country, but especially here, doesn’t only apply to education. It carries over to health-care, including mental health, housing, food, and durable good choices, which encompasses a scarcity of retailers (No, the sudden proliferation of the Dollar General stores in rural hamlets do not count as a viable choice.), and on, and on, and on …
I firmly believe that this endless list of free choice deprivation is the driving force behind the ubiquitous ills that plague St. Lawrence County. I won’t enumerate them all here – however, I think we all understand that the resulting traumas are what we encounter and try to deal with on the daily.
I am a proud native of the North Country; born in Potsdam (fun fact: my daughter, Kenzie, was born in the same room at CPH- 32 ½ years after I was). I grew up in Norfolk, Brasher, and then after living out-of-state for ten years, returned to raise my children in West Potsdam and finally built a home and settled off-the-grid in Pierrepont. I may playfully threaten to move someplace like, oh say, Vermont; in spite of all the teasing, as you probably guessed, I am profoundly committed to staying right here.
However, in all honesty, if I spend too much time cataloguing the problems that exist here, I too become easily overwhelmed and exhausted by the enormity of the challenges they represent. This is why I have honed my focus to establishing a viable option for children. In creating a positive space for them to grow, learn, and play, where they can take the time to develop goals and aspirations – an inspiring, safe environment filled with resources, materials, and supportive mentors, we consciously provide them with the freedom to make individual choices that will guide them to be the people they were destined to be.
And, we are dedicated to, intentionally, “minding the gap” that clearly exists in educational alternatives, by opening Deep Root Centers in towns, villages, and hamlets throughout St. Lawrence County. I envision doing this by becoming an integral part of each community, by sharing buildings and spaces that already exist in other capacities. Thus, we are excited to announce that DRC-East, our second center, will be opening January 7th using the Lawrenceville Fire Hall as our temporary home until the permanent location is ready for us. Beginning with two days a week (T & Th), it will eventually be open every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This expansion will allow us to accommodate most of the folks currently on our waiting list - however, we anticipate several new applications once we open this DRC on the eastern side of the county. We understand that this one new Center will not fulfill the need!
As with most not-for-profits dedicated to creating opportunities, we work within the constraints of an extremely tight budget. BY consistently keeping our promise to accept anyone who needs our help, whether they can pay the full fee or not, over the past six years, our staff and Board are constantly seeking ways to fill the budgetary gaps. The families waiting to join DRC are a never-ending reminder that the educational option we provide is an essential component of the North Country.
We are asking you to contribute today. By choosing to underwrite Deep Root Center, not only are you investing in those inspiring young voices who are bravely choosing to take charge of their educations with us, but in the process, you are helping to tackle the systemic problems, created by scarcity of free choice, which persecutes the entire region. Thank you!
Yes, there is more exciting news from DRC! Our after-school program, which offers a much-needed option for after-school care, with the basic DRC philosophy of non-coercion and hands-on, interest-based learning, is opening January 6th. Click here for more information. Please share this opportunity within your network.
Who decides what excellence means, or to be more accurate, what it looks like? What are the criteria? These questions could continue for another paragraph or so, but, I’ll stop here because I think you know where I am headed …
Excellence, along with its alter egos - perfection, superiority, flawlessness, and grade A+, has created a culture in which we are never fully satisfied with our real and authentic selves. This discontent includes all of the superficial imperfections, as well as the limitations, involuntarily, determined by the labels placed upon us by others, and ourselves. As a society, we slot everything into predetermined categories and then feel the compulsion to harshly judge the “broken,” the “flawed,” and the less than ideal. We don’t allow ourselves to celebrate the awesomeness of everyday accomplishments, feel gratitude for the commonplace, or honor the beauty of individual struggle. We simply don’t see the superpowers behind the labels.
As a result, most of us spend our lifetimes seeking out that elusive ideal by engaging in a variety of activities, which only produce a temporary "high" but will never completely fill that void created by the feelings of discontent and failure. When you think about it consumerism (our entire economy) is fueled by this obsession for achieving excellence.
Many of you will recall my dislike – I mean my complete and utter aversion of using diagnoses to label someone. I truly believe that they do nothing more than provide people with excuses: 1) to treat the labeled differently, and 2) for those who carry the label to allow that diagnosis to determine their behaviors and hold them back from achieving the things they always wanted.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a teen, who knows this about me, look me square in the eye and say, “but sometimes those labels can be helpful because they give a name to the thing that someone has been struggling with and believed they were the only one.” Well, that certainly gave me pause; however, after contemplating her view for a long time, my stance remains intact.
Simply put, I look at it like this: as humans, we are all somewhere on the various scales of neurodiversity, mental, and physical ability. So instead of pigeonholing, condescending, or condemning, I am encouraging that on a broader level within our society, we intentionally create space, time, and support where everyone has the opportunity to fully explore and recognize their inherent abilities - their personal brilliance. And, then, work through their own challenges to figure out and develop the techniques and personal life hacks that work best for them - which may not be (are probably not) the same ones that work for others with the same diagnosis. This along with the understanding that our life, itself, is in constant flux, is necessary for our personal evolution. For instance, I always work with the underlying knowledge that as I grow and change, every single project I undertake can be revised, or, even scrapped and redone, at any time. In my mind, nothing I have worked on is ever completely "finished."
Envision a culture driven by the compulsion to encourage the strength and tenacity of individual talents and authenticity, where we would no longer have a large portion of our society who feels like their personal quirks and obstacles make them inferior. And, now, imagine a world crowded with enthusiastic people who acknowledge their innately flawed humanness, have the audacity to embrace their imperfections as their superpowers and use their lives to inspire others.
Annual Funding Appeal -
Please remember DRC in your end of year giving. We rely on your contributions to do our work.
Exploration Station -
We are super excited to announce that DRC is launching an After School Program beginning January 6th. Space will be limited to ten kids. Details can be found here.
With our official number at twenty-six, and a daily attendance hovering around eighteen to twenty, the 48 Riverside Drive facility is at capacity, and then some. In the past three months I have had to say, “no,” to several kids who want to become members (two this past week). Which means there are currently fifteen kids on the waiting list, homeschooling on their own, with our consultation services. There have been a few who were not willing to homeschool without us, and decided to stay in school. I try not to think about the outcomes of those decisions, too often.
When DRC opened in that sad, one-room space, January 2014, above the McFadden Dier Leonard agency, with one student, and the following eighteen-month period when that number tanked to zero and occasionally climbed to a whopping five (only to drop back down to zero), none of us could have imagined or predicted the immense growth that has occurred over the last two years.
In those intervening, nearly, six years, we have served a total of seventy-four youths, as members - some of whom joined us for a few months, rarely showing up, before moving on, others who stayed for a year or so, and a few who are still members after four years.
Here are a few snap shots, to help you understand the magnitude of this recent influx, I have written forty-three IHIPS (Individualized Home Instruction Plans) since August, along with the accompanying Quarterly Progress Reports this November. This Fall, I met with twelve to fourteen teen members every week for their individual mentoring sessions. These unique conversations represent the integral piece of DRC that cannot be replicated within a coercive and compulsory system. This is the time I am able to really get to know each of them. Their fears and anxieties, hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes, and their ambitions. Some are very casual and last for a few minutes while: standing in the kitchen cooking lunch, hanging on the couch, setting mouse traps (don’t ask), sorting out the garage, or watching DIY videos on You-tube in the classroom; others happily evolve into awesome, mind blowing, dialogs that extend upwards of an hour in the comfy chairs in the office.
While these conversations swirl throughout our days – it is the hands-on projects and activities that dictate the flow. This year alone, the kids have used over 200 hot glue-sticks, emptied a few bottles of paint, and commandeered every empty box, piece of cardboard, plastic bottle, etc. to create an uncountable number of art and craft projects. They have cooked an abundance of pasta and tomato sauce, mac and cheese, homemade tomato soup, pancakes, and grilled cheese. (Our repertoire is sometimes limited by the items available through the Central NY Foodbank and our personal tastes.) They have baked cakes, cookies, fruit crisps, and quick breads. And, we have gone through enough Greek Yogurt, apples (120 lbs.), bread, butter, orange juice, eggs, and peanut butter (12 – 1 lb. jars) to sink a ship. This next week, we are making a Thanksgiving feast. Yes, the dishwasher runs once a day and the dish drainer is never empty. There is always at least one guitar being strummed, with the drum-machine thumping in the background. The chess board is permanently set-up on a “tv-tray” in the “chill-space” with barely a pause between games. It is not unusual to see an eighteen-year-old engaged in a strategic battle with a nine-year-old. The upstairs classroom is generally occupied with teens in front of laptops working through online classes, watching documentaries and You-tube videos to research various subjects, or even popular films and television shows, reading from a range of text books that inhabit the bookshelves that line the walls, while constantly plugged in to a variety of music. The Seedlings Room is filled with kids playing Legos, magnetic rod toys, creating story-lines, characters, and settings through imaginary play, coloring, reading, working with Khan Academy or Prodigy Math programs or online Language Arts programs, and researching random interests, online.
This all provides the backdrop of an ever-present droning hum created by spontaneous, non-adult directed activity, Some would classify it as utter chaos, I prefer to label it happy, magical artistry that inspires all who enter.
When we took a long, hard look at our stated mission of providing the facilities, resources, and support for young people to take charge of their education, we felt an obligation to all of the children, of the NoCo, who want to be part of this exciting and exhilarating place. Therefore, as you have probably heard, we are expanding! We are bringing all this crazy energy to Lawrenceville, DRC-East, in January. This, of course, will stretch our already limited resources. Because we have maintained our promise to accept any child who needs us, whether their family can afford our tuition or not, fee reductions this year, alone, total more than $105,000.00, which is more than double the annual budget.
Over the past six years, we have had the great, good fortune to have amazing friends and supporters who have contributed several large (for us) grants and donations between $4,000 – $10,000. Those along with smaller (but no less significant) donations have sustained us though some intensely lean times.
We are once again looking to you, our neighbors, to help us provide the facilities and resources for all of the kids in the St. Lawrence Valley, who are inspired to leave a system that is not working for them, to take charge of their education and lives. This is just the beginning – as families leave the established system in droves, we envision a Deep Root Center in every small town in St. Lawrence County, where young people can happily forge a life filled with curiosity, creativity, and hope.
This is your opportunity to invest in our collective future, by supporting our (their) dream. Thank you!
As you have probably guessed, it is once again that time of year that we come to you for support. This year, we are trying a couple of different things to increase visibility and participation. We will be sending out the below double-sided color version appeal to a select few via US Mail. The remainder will be sent digitally through email.
To make it as easy as possible, we have set it up so you can contribute in a variety of ways:
As always you can send a check to - Deep Root Center, 48 Riverside Drive, Canton, NY 13617
Click the link here or in the emailed version - it will bring you directly to the donation page on the DRC Website. With the PayPal button you can choose a one-time donation or you can become a sustaining donor, by clicking the monthly contribution box.
You can also choose to sponsor a DRC Kid. That link is in the digital version of the appeal, as well.
We are also encouraging supporters to check with their employers to see if they provide matching donations or may be interested in sponsoring a DRC kid themselves.
You will also find an on-going Giving Tuesday Fundraiser on the DRC Facebook page.
No matter how you contribute, we are grateful! Thank you!
Watching young people, who have experienced trauma, flounder, make excuses, and disengage from their life is a heartbreaking task I am “forced” to endure (and, respond to) every single day. I am embarrassed to say there were a few occasions, these past couple weeks, that I was not able to meet this challenge with positivity or compassion; in fact, my reactions bordered on frustration and barely contained anger. Not a proud statement to place in the first paragraph of a blog post that is an attempt to illustrate the devastation of learned helplessness, one of the detrimental and life-long effects of childhood trauma. Nevertheless, it is a personal disclosure that I hope will help others, not only recognize the symptoms, but attend to those who are suffering, without bias or criticism.
Learned helplessness is a term coined by Psychologists, Martin Seligman and Steven Maier, in 1967, when they were conducting animal behavior research and discovered that after repeated exposure to stress, an animal (in this case dogs) would become passive and stop trying to “fix” their situation. They soon realized that this phenomenon transfers to humans too.
Children who have been exposed to trauma behave in much the same way. To put it bluntly - they just give up. They are sad, apathetic, lack the ability to self-motivate, feel powerless, have few interests, deflect, are unwilling to try new things because they are afraid of failing, and, possibly the most concerning symptom, is their seeming detachment from their own life, as well as the people around them. Through exposure to trauma, they are simply conditioned to believe that they are incapable of making positive changes that will affect their own realities and those of the wider world.
For a person who is the complete opposite of all those things – it is, straight-up, exhausting to be around those who are passive and defeatist. Yes, I understand, honor, and respect all the reasons – it is still extremely difficult to watch. (After all, I am neither a saint, nor am I superhuman.)
No, those suffering are not lazy. Nor are they willfully trying to make you (me) angry. Although, at times (especially this past week), it is very easy to believe those two particular condemnations.
How then, do (can) we, as mentors and (safe adults), maneuver through our own emotional triggers to help these kids?
I believe that our first goal is to present ourselves as real, flawed people with all the typical baggage everyone carries through life. Use your personal stories as examples of the ways you met challenges and succeeded. Provide time and space for healing – as much as they need. Create an atmosphere that feels cozy, comfortable, and safe – a place they can equate with feelings of positivity, love, and acceptance. Present opportunities for them to talk about their experiences without judgment and draw out tales from their lives that exhibit favorable outcomes. Politely point out their negative self-talk and coach them to use affirmations instead. Gently get them up and moving – engaged in everyday activities. When they say “I can’t” or “I don’t know how,” walk them through the task – one step at a time - calmly and without censure (this is the exact point where I came up short of patience in the past few weeks). Encourage those who feel powerless to make one change – one decision, and then support them to take ownership of that choice, whether it was favorable or not. Prompt them to start thinking and talking about their future – to make lists with goals and aspirations along with incremental steps they can take to get to those objectives. Make a point of noticing and mentioning every single positive step they have taken – no matter how small.
Most importantly – be gentle with yourself. If you screw-up, admit it, apologize, and move forward. Our most valuable contributions to those who are suffering from learned helplessness is to model real-life, with all of its opportunities to contribute to the elegance and beauty of human connection, as well as the pitfalls that will inevitably cause pain.
I fully believe that our core purpose for being here is to enjoy our one life to the fullest, and to advance purposefully with new knowledge (acquired from all of our mistakes), and, intentions to do better next time, all the while helping others to do the same.
End of Year Funding Appeal
Reason Number One for investing your philanthropic contributions in Deep Root Center:
DRC is the one place in the North Country committed to providing a safe, non-coercive, self-directed learning environment where kids, who are not positively served by the public-school system, are authorized, and, supported to follow their interests and to make decisions about their own education and life. We do this by keeping our promise to help any child, whether their family can pay our tuition or not.
You can contribute to my Facebook Birthday Fundraiser here. Or, you can go to our website and donate there. We are specifically encouraging people to sponsor a DRC kid with a one-time donation or a monthly contribution. You can also check with your workplace to see if they offer matching contributions. Thank you!
Behind the Scenes:
We are making some progress on DRC – East. However, as with all new ideas and ventures, we have encountered the fated “two steps forward, one step back” syndrome. We will keep you updated in this space.
The Afterschool Program will be up and running by the time we return from Holiday Break in January. Get in touch to learn more.
Our culture has instilled, within all of us, this bone-deep, paralyzing fear of standing out and being different. I am sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you, me, all of us, as unique individuals, are completely, off the wall, bonkers, weird! Not one single one of us is normal! Therefore, the sooner we get over ourselves and accept it, the freer we will all be to live authentically!
After observing teens at the DRC dance Friday evening, I am now convinced that the main thing our society is missing is our ability to ignore our own inhibitions (throw caution to the wind) to be utterly real and celebrate our own innate human-ness. Instead, we have buried our true selves alive in fear of judgment, bias, and criticism of self and others.
The atmosphere was set – a generous DJ playing fantastic upbeat music, cool disco lights, and snacks … but the teens held back – no one, except me, was willing to step onto the dance floor and move their bodies. After a little while, a few brave souls became entranced by the thumping beat, and ventured over. But, it wasn’t until a couple of younger kids arrived and quite literally threw their bodies into action (dancing, spinning, jumping, jiving, and doing cart wheels) that most of the other kids, eventually, joined in. A few continued to hold back, eat snacks, and converse in a small cluster. They never allowed themselves the pleasure of pure abandon.
The struggle to fit in (keeping up with the Joneses) consumes our lives, to the point where our energies are focused on accumulation and the economy of deficit (both inside and materialistically), instead of recognizing and celebrating the abundance we already possess. Our internal compasses are eternally set to “search” mode instead of “happy” mode.
Being content with our real selves – the ability to acknowledge and accept both the positive and negative aspects of our personality is when change can occur and the intentions we set for ourselves begin to manifest.
My main job, as a mentor, is to convince young people that they are completely awesome right now. And, that, I really want to get to know them as real people - their talents and gifts, the pieces of their personality they would like to change, the things that they find hard, their worries and concerns, as well as their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. I especially want them to fully understand that they are welcomed and honored for who they are, in this moment, and, that I fully expect them to pay that respect forward.
Get comfortable in your skin! You are, absolutely, perfect, exactly, as you are! Yet, don’t be afraid of transformation because the next version of you will be just as superb. Celebrate you! Dance! Use your voice to advocate for change! Share your amazing self with others, all while honoring their distinct human-ness. And, please, let your weird light shine, so we can all see the real you!