It has been another awesome week at the Center. I am learning how to negotiate this innovative educational environment not only as the facilitator, but also as another participant. Which means I am becoming more comfortable introducing ideas either through actions or verbal suggestions and just as comfortable watching the kids come up with their own ideas. With two, and sometimes only one kid here, we haven't yet got a set schedule of classes; it is pretty fluid. We do what feels right at any given time.
On Monday, Elwood wanted to learn more about tribes. Of course I was delighted to bring out my favorite Anthropology resource; a book called Anthropologist Scientist to the People by Mary Batten. It tells the story of a woman who spends large amounts of time in the field studying and living with the Ache in Paraguay. It is an amzaing book because it tells a story, while teaching the basics of cultural anthropology. I read a chapter and answered questions as they came up. The amazing part is, the other youth in the room was listening too. Some of you will recognize that the title of this post is an Anthropological term. I couldn't resist!
Later that day, the boys were tossing around the "barley bag" I heat in the microwave and use to relieve the stiffness in my shoulder. Eventually, one of them said "it would be nice to have a hacki sack to throw at each other." Then the other said, I know how to use the sewing machine." I offered fabric from the same old shirt that I made the barley bag from and they decided to use some popcorn kernels for filling. They got out the machine and with a bit of rearranging assigned tasks, and instruction created a hacki sack. They also took apart an old alarm clock and ipod that afternoon.
We walked over in the frigid wind to Bell's Garage and set up a shadowing opportunity for Nate. The folks at the garage were very pleasant and eager to help.
On Wednesday Elwood was here by himself. I thought it would be nice to start working on the mural again, so I mixed some brown paint and asked him how he wanted to implement the underworld part. He eagerly grabbed another palette and began mixing more brown and showed me exactly what he was thinking. We spent several hours building our version of the underworld. Later that day I read another chapter of the anthro book. We also spent time trying to get Linux onto another USB drive and failed both times we tried it.
On Thursday, I read another chapter and this time Nate had a question or two. Then we went skating. The boys and MacKenzie found a puck and spent a good portion of time kicking it around the arena. It was amazing to watch the accomplished skater of the group take the other two in hand to show them how to skate backwards and kick the puck without falling on their butts. Such gentleness and kindness embodied in one kid. It is so amazing to realize I get to spend everyday observing this kind of compassion and awesomeness.
That afternoon, Nate went to the garage while the other two got the paints out and continued work on the mural. It has expanded from the original along with it's underworld to a body of water and Hogwarts castle next to it. Elwood finished his week at DRC with an electric guitar lesson.
Spread the word our next Open House is scheduled for March 20th. The first day of Spring!!!!
Observing, conversing and spending time with two (sometimes three, if we count MacKenzie) kids as they negotiate this new place and time in their lives is a privilege I don't take lightly. They are each growing and learning by leaps and bounds every day. Sometimes those accomplishments can be measured and quantified, but most often they can not.
Success means something completely different to each of them, but the feelings achievement engenders within is probably similar. That inner “yes” that we all recognize when we have done something we are proud of. That really good feeling that spreads from the heart outwards. The glow from the inside that can't be erased and other people recognize instantly, by the wide smile on your face. Yes, success is attractive. Folks like spending time in your company (maybe some of that good feeling will rub off).
Yesterday, Nate was pretty stoked when he came into the Center. He had been away last week, so we hadn't seen each other in almost two weeks. He was bursting to tell me the story of his snowmobile, a machine that has sat idle for seven years. He had a professional mechanic look at it to figure out what it would take to get it running. The pro had nothing to offer. After he left, Nate was determined to get the snowmobile running. He tinkered and played and got it started long enough to move it into his garage. Success! He accomplished something a guy who went to school for mechanics couldn't. Man, did that make him feel good!
What do we offer here that is different from other educational environments? Respect, plain and simple. When Nate first came here, I listened to him, everything he had to say. Really listened, because I am genuinely interested in the stories every youth brings here.
On that first day, I explained the only two rules we have at Deep Root Center: Don't do anything to hurt yourself and don't hurt anyone else. The expectations are simple; respect yourself, this space and everyone else around you. He looked at me as if I was crazy. No other rules, that's it? Through that conversation I was able to communicate that I am going to meet him where he is at. I am going to reinforce what he is good at and celebrate every success. I am not going to tell him what he is bad at; through trial and error, he will discover what he needs to improve on his own.
It is easy to be successful when you know there are people who care about you at your back. When success can be defined with feelings instead of things acquired. When you have a smile on your face that will invite people into your life.
This has been another interesting week. We had five extra kids on Tuesday and two yesterday for our special themed Mid Winter Break week.
Science Tuesday was messy and everyone had a blast. No, we didn't blow anyone or thing up! That always seems to be the first question on any science themed day, that I have ever been involved in.
We were honored to have Leon S here with his daughter, Grace. He brought the science expertise and the some of the fun in the form of dry ice. We made dry ice cream. Which needless to say was a huge hit. Then two of the boys spent a long time playing with the remaining solid CO2 to see how it would react with different stuff, including hot or cold water, dish soap, an apple, a banana, an eraser...ya the list goes on.
We also made salt dough and slime. We vacuumed twice and washed the table off multiple times. So, my personal theory about kids and messes held true. The amount of mess at the end of the day is directly related to the amount of fun had by the participants. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the kids. You can take my word for it, they were not exactly clean when they left for the day!
On Wednesday, Elwood and I were here alone. We walked up to see the awesome snow sculptures in the park before the BIG Melt. Elwood decided he would like to do a report about Italy, so we spent a good portion of the afternoon researching and discussing Venice. Did you know, there are no cars allowed in Venice at all? And yes, there are regular streets not just canals. Elwood has decided that he wants to move to Venice. He couldn't articulate why exactly, but it is where he wants to go. At least, I'll have a place to stay when I visit Italy in a few years.
We are not sure if we will offer another themed week during April's Spring Break; it depends on interest. If you know of folks who may be interested, please tell them to contact me, so we can begin planning.
And as always, if you hear of a youth who is unhappy in their schooling situation, please tell them about Deep Root Center. Every child deserves to be engaged and excited about learning! We will accept new members anytime during the year.
Yesterday, I heard someone say that folks could be concerned that we may not be around in the future. I can understand that worry; taking a child out of school, adjusting to homeschooling, and the Center and then have it close a few months later would be a huge disturbance in their lives. However, this statement really caught my attention and I decided it would be the next issue addressed here...
My (and the whole board's) intention, desire and commitment is to continue this program into the far future. In fact, I envision DRCs all over the North Country. Deep Root Center is becoming an integral part of our community. In my mind, this Pilot Program has never been 'a lets try it and see how it goes thing'. It is simply the beginning place for something that will be part of my life for a very long time.
At this point, we are sustaining our basics. With a few more members, we will be able to go beyond sustaining to having an actual budget that will allow us to repay loans and even pay a salary.
So, if you hear a youth say, "I do not like school", tell them there is a place that encourages learning on your own terms, with a staff who really listen and are ready to support and mentor your jump into self-directed learning. DRC is the place where kids own their wackiness and differences to become one more voice in the world that says, "I am awesome, because..."
We are at the end of our 6th week. This one has been a bit strange; between weather events and illness, we actually only had two days together.
The boys and I spent a lot of time this Tuesday thinking about and planning science experiments for next Tuesday's Science Day. We wanted to make ice cream with Dry Ice, but can't find a source for it. So, to maximize the messy component, we are going to make slime with glue and borax. Nate found something on YouTube involving matchsticks, clothespins and flying... We bought some straws, popsicle sticks, hot glue and string to build things with. And, we borrowed Steven Caney's Ultimate building Book from the library, along with several other "science experiment" books. We also have plenty of dishsoap, baking soda, vinegar and other interesting supplies to stay busy for a while.
Elwood and I went back to the Electronic recycling box at the Town Barns on Monday to throw in a broken microwave (yes, we had to buy a new one), but the only new item from the week before was another old microwave and NO we are not tearing one of those suckers apart!
He finished a project about Germany and created a presentation on Google Drive. He really loves using Google. Everything is stored in the"cloud" and can be accessed anywhere.
Elwood and Andrew explored the mini dell some more and discovered when they were installing the Linux Mint operating system that the 7gb harddrive was dieing. We have a couple of options that we are looking into. They also took apart an old DVR donated to the Center and discovered a 500gb harddrive. Elwood really wanted to make a computer from the DVR but Andrew convinced him it wasn't feasible. So, we are holding onto the hard drive until we figure out what we want to do. Ideally, we will find an old tower that can be rebuilt.
Miguel was here on Tuesday to play more music. Elwood learned a lot of new chords and listened to Miguel play along to some of the tunes on the keyboard.
If I was to ask any parent “what is your biggest fear?” Or, on the flip side, “What is your greatest wish?” Their responses would most likely relate to their child's health and well being. It is what we parents do...worry about and hope for the best for our kids. We want happy, secure, healthy, and successful children.
Our fears are often triggered by the intangible. Our visceral response to the unknown is generally, an internal gasp and tightening, our minds shout, “no”, and then we try to ignore the unfamiliar, get ready to take it on, or run away as fast as we can. These responses are a nice (but not always useful) DNA gift from our ancient ancestors when they were confronted with the big, bad and ugly.
The assumption that the experiences we had as children are the safest, or best options for our kids, even if we were at times unhappy, disengaged and disenfranchised, are based on feelings of familiarity, the known.
We assume that our children have to go through the same rituals we did. Because, they will be smarter if they memorize the 4th grade Social Studies curriculum and pass the standardized test at the end of the year, they will become socially adept because they sat in a lunch room full of other children their age, or they will be well rounded because they participated in a scheduled, extra-curricular activity or two every single day.
How many times have you seen or heard something intriguing, but held back because of the fear of the unknown? The combination of fears and assumptions is not only holding our kids back; they are also restraining each one of us. When we can let go of some of those preconceived notions, try new things, branch out, step outside our comfort zones and embrace our real selves, a level of awesomeness, that can not even be imagined, will follow.