Flexibility along with the ability to move quickly was listed as number five on our recent Top Ten list. I did not contemplate the arrangement of each point as I was composing that post; it is written in the order that they occurred to me. I would, however, upon thinking back, place this particular strength closer to number two or three.
Our willingness, openness and dedication to view nearly anything as education and our ability to provide possibilities for each kid who walks through our doors is what sets us apart from any other learning institution in the North Country. When a student tells me he wants to learn something, I delight in connecting him to that person or opportunity in our community that will allow him to pursue his interest. Because, his passion for a particular subject is the driving force behind his engagement and desire to learn.
I would like to, if you would indulge me, provide a few examples from the past few weeks. One of our email subscribers has an eight year old daughter. She contacted me after reading one of my posts. Through an extended email exchange, she told me her daughter is passionate about making things and wanted to learn to sew and knit and then asked if I could help. I was delighted to inform her that my first college degree was in Fashion Design. Yes, I could teach sewing and maybe even a bit of design. I also told her I could find someone to teach her to knit. Within an hour, I had contacted a friend who was pleased to offer knitting lessons the following week. To date, this child has spent two days at DRC and has, with her own sewing machine, sewn a bag, a skirt (with fancy train), and vest (with cape). She has had one knitting/crotchet lesson and she created a clay sculpture and dictated a story to go along with it. We are in the process of finishing the story, typing it up, and creating a book. Her next sewing project will probably be a dress from a pattern that I had designed many years ago.
A twelve (almost thirteen) year old student joined us about one month ago. She has many interests and talents and this past week told me she would like to become a neurosurgeon. She wants to study anatomy and has started by memorizing the bones in the human skeleton (and she is using our brand new half size human skeleton model donated by Nature's Storehouse). She is currently working on learning the individual names for the carpal and tarsal bones. She is also enrolled in an on-line biology class at SUNY Canton. During one of our first conversations, we were discussing languages and she told me she wanted to learn Arabic. I contacted the Modern Language Department at SLU and within three hours, after making a few connections, had a SLU student who was willing to be her Arabic tutor. She has had three lessons, thus far.
Another thirteen year old told me she was sick of doing the on-line math lessons. I asked what she would like to learn and she said basic everyday math. We proceeded to have a fun, lively, and impromptu budgeting class. The two girls took a printed household budget sheet, researched their desired careers (baker and neurosurgeon), including undergraduate and graduate degrees needed, and the salary range. It was fascinating to watch them decide with further research (rent for a one bedroom apartment in Canton, etc) how much they would budget for each life expense. This girl's burning desire, it has been her dream for years, is to open a bakery (her specialty is cupcakes). Our conversation centered around starting a business and whether an apprenticeship or culinary school would be better to learn the business. I am definitely rooting for this kid; Canton needs a good old fashioned bakery!
DRC is able to move quickly to provide opportunity because we have no preconceived agenda or defined curriculum and we are not limited by what the staff can teach, because we consider the whole community our extended staff. Each student, with assistance, creates their own program with their own goals; their education is individualized and perfectly suited to them, and it is completely flexible. Student are supported and encouraged to try something new, when they tire of a previous interest. In fact, we offer to meet with each youth weekly, to listen to concerns or requests, offer ideas, and to facilitate any change the student desires.
These particular kids at the ages of eight, twelve, and thirteen are living their dreams, now. They may not end up working as a seamstress, neurosurgeon, or baker, but they are happily engaged in creating intentions, following their interests, practicing life skills, and learning how to learn. They are each directing their own education and are exploring all of the possibilities with help from DRC.