Barriers are simply the things that keep you from participating or making choices - whether it is a game, activity, project, or most importantly an opportunity for personal growth or advancement.
I think about this constantly, given the people I interact with daily. Consequently, I have come up with some conclusions. I believe that most barriers in our modern society are social constructs, not physically tangible impediments. Inequity, injustice, and discrimination are at the core of all the obstacles people, without the privilege of whiteness, family connections and social hierarchy, or elite education, come up against daily.
We live in a place where a large proportion of us, regardless of our European descent, do not, for the most part, have access to the “riches” afforded to the privileged, including natural respect and courtesy, reliable, ethical, and quality (not to mention affordable) healthcare (including mental healthcare), a wide variety of options for jobs, education (free from bullying, intimidation, coercion, and detrimental labels), or decent, reasonably priced housing, grocery stores and fresh, year-round, whole food markets, retail stores (that are not dollar stores), and dependable transportation.
This entire list, of what have become entitlements in our culture, determines whether you have the “luxury” of freedom of choice for yourself and your family, or not. Therein lies the conditions that have created the barriers in our inequitable, unjust, and discriminatory society.
When a large segment of the population is left without the basics of free choice in a “free” society – it says something about that society, not the people who are struggling to survive.
No, this is not a politically charged post. It is, quite simply, a nod to the folks I meet every day. They are the ones who feel like their hands are tied in a system that uses intimidation, outdated (to the point of obsolete) methodologies, and coercion (as a scare tactic) to keep people down - not lift them. These folks are seeking respectful dialogue and viable options, which will allow their kids to succeed, not a hand-out, or a "free lunch.”
This is exactly where DRC can help. We offer kindness, a listening ear, and validation, but most importantly, practical alternatives for a positive future, where there were formerly none (including the choice to opt-out of the existing system entirely).
If supporting people to be their best, in whatever way possible, is considered radical - then as a society, we are in enormous trouble. I refuse to lower my standards of common decency, justice, authenticity, and respect to cater to the lowest common denominator.
Note: I am linking these two articles related to the above graphic. The first is the one that uses this graphic to illustrate their point, the second has a different version. I found both to be helpful resources in thinking about systemic barriers.
I am also linking this article that I came across this morning, as a resource. It clarifies, for me, one way we could change our culture, which is currently steeped in greed, to be more fair and just.
DRC has open enrollment in both of our facilities – Canton and Lawrenceville. If you are seeking an alternative to public school – DRC is here to not only help navigate the legalities of developing an educational plan outside of school, but to provide a welcoming learning community with a personalized and flexible approach. Get in touch today for more information.
Our afternoon program peeps are having a blast. Check out our full suite of extended services, including our Spring Break Programs and register today .
I first met Elian this past summer when a DRC student member introduced us. During that initial lengthy conversation, I intuited that he would somehow fit into the fabric of DRC. He understood the philosophy and knew that if he had the opportunity to self-direct his education, everything would have been completely different for him.
Last summer, Elian was a SUNY Canton student. Over the past several months, as he mentions below, he realized that college, at this time, is not right for him. After reconnecting at the beginning of February, when he requested to join us as a volunteer, I asked him to be our Exploration Station, afternoon and school break, back-up person. He covered a few Exploration Station afternoons, and expressed, several times, his desire to work with us on a full-time basis. My response was always, “I know, and I really would like to hire you; however, our budget does not allow that right now.
Elian saw that as a challenge that he could take on, and showed up randomly, the day before mid-winter break, with a piece of paper. He had been working with a job counselor at the St. Lawrence County One-Stop Career Center and discovered a program that hires young people to work at local companies and organizations. A federal grant covers their salary and all payroll costs for 12-26 weeks, to provide workplace training so these folks can enter the workforce on their own. The ultimate goal is that they would be hired by the business or Not-for-Profit, that they received their training from.
I am so very grateful and pleased that Elian will be a part our community, as a staff member, for the remainder of this academic year. He will work closely with all of our Peeps to explore math and science concepts, through classes and hands-on projects. He will be available to facilitate a myriad of other activities that they are interested in exploring, and he will also be an active participant in the amazing conversations that swirl throughout the Center on any given day. Elian will also continue to cover Exploration Station programming, whenever Erin is not available. Our aspirations include being able to hire him to be with us for as long as he would like to stay. To that end, the last item on his job description is to research viable funding streams for DRC.
The following is Elian’s introduction, in his own words –
A shriek pierces me awake; I roll over and groan. My mammalian alarm clock can sense my hastened breathing and whistles again. My feet hit the floor, and trance-like, I walk over to her cage. She knows she is the head of the household.
“Emmie, you’re not even out of hay!” I sigh at my fat fur baby.
She chirps back at my happily as if to say, “Pick me up!”
Armed with the guinea pig, I go to my peach pink mini-fridge. The noise of the door triggers a scream, as I pull out lettuce and almond milk.
She sits in my lap as I pour Malt-O-Meal Tootie Fruities. I review Fruit Loops on Facebook as a hobby. I swear that my second tattoo will be a bowl of fruit loops on my bicep; the first: a stegosaurus, a triceratops, and a heart on my wrist.
Emmie sneaks a fruit loop from my bowl before I finish my cereal.
Originally, I’m from Iowa and I went to school in Delaware. I came up to Canton to go to college. School hasn’t turned out to be for me so while I was pursuing my degree in Early Childhood Education, I decided to leave and finish my teaching assistant certificate on my own.
In my free time, I like to embroider, paint, and write creative non-fiction. I also have been playing guitar since I was 8. I volunteer sometimes at various places around Potsdam. My guinea pig, Emmie, is my world and I have another human roommate named Scott who is also very cool.
Like Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” I have a lot of jobs. I review off-brand Fruit Loops on Facebook, I’m a pet dad, I’m a volunteer, I’m a writer, I’m an artist, I’m a guitarist, I’m an embroiderer, and I bake mean gluten-free, sugar-free cookies. I work at Deep Root now, which I can add to my long list of things that excite me.
DRC will offer programming during Spring Break, the week of April 13th. Families who are signed up and use our Afternoon Programs at least three days each week will receive a 5% discount for Spring Break Programming. Learn more about Exploration Station Programs here.
DRC has a rolling admissions policy. Young people can join us anytime throughout the academic year. If school is not working out for your child - contact us today to learn how we can help you. We have openings in both the Canton and Lawrenceville Centers.
Most visitors, who are just learning about Deep Root Center and our philosophy, are understandably skeptical when I tell them, that on any given day, you cannot tell the difference between the kids who joined DRC a week ago from the ones who have been with us for a couple of years. In addition, parents don’t quite understand this concept until they see their own child completely enveloped within our amazing community the day after they join us.
I spend a lot of time thinking about and marveling at this particular phenomenon. Is it the environment or is it this grouping of random kids? Perhaps it is our philosophy along with the absence of a list of finite rules. If you asked me at this moment, based on the cohesiveness of this particular group of kids, my response would be all of the above.
We work hard to create a cozy, comfortable, and non-institutional feeling space – filled with all those things you would find in your own home. The front door opens into our “chill space,” which is set up like any living room, including the cubbies and lockers often filled to overflowing with boots, coats, and backpacks, along with stray socks, and other minutiae of everyday life. Our kitchen, with the exception of the labels on the cupboards, is like any other, a gathering space, with open access to anyone who is hungry or wants to cook for the group. The art room and all of the creative supplies, the music room filled with instruments, the Seedlings Room and the toys, the classroom with all its books, and the front porch and huge backyard are all free and open to anyone who wants to use them. There are no barriers here (except for the stairs, unfortunately) or secret codes. Everyone is welcome anywhere at this facility.
The combination of kids is always changing – new kids arrive, some leave, others show up infrequently – the common denominator will always be their desire to be here. They come from all walks of life, with unique perspectives and ideologies, and they are each dealing with various difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, even within all those differences, they recognize kindred spirits here and allow their defense mechanisms to relax. We all get to know each other on a deep level because we have the time, space, and freedom to do that. We all feel safe to open up and share our fears, dreams, aspirations, and our past experiences.
Absolutely, yes, it is these amazing, open, and inspirational kids; however, it is also the foundational philosophy that allows for those things to happen. They understand clearly that no one will judge them, and that our one rule – respect yourself, each other and this place - will always stand. They know they will never be forced to do something they do not want to do. They also understand that we appreciate each of them for who they are, and for the gifts, they bring to the community.
Therefore, when the inevitable question pops up during intake meetings or phone calls - asking how many days their child would have to attend the Center each week - my answer will always be, “we are building a community here, and if your child is not here often enough, they will eventually feel like they are not part of that community; however, with that consideration, they are free to come as often as they would like or can.”
The DRC community is welcoming, organic, and flexible, and will always reflect the people who are here on any given day, including visitors and volunteers. This is why I can always look forward to the awesomeness of tomorrow – knowing that it will never be the same as today.
The DRC staff has experienced some changes. Christopher Raymo, after a brief leave of absence, has resigned for personal reasons. We miss him greatly and wish him well in his endeavors.
I am excited to announce that Elian Erickson, has joined the DRC staff. He will be with us every day and is looking forward to being a member of the DRC community and specifically facilitating math and science classes and one-on-one sessions. Stay tuned for an in-depth profile of Elian in the next couple of weeks. This was made possible through the St Lawrence County One-Stop Career Center and their program to place young adults in work-sites around the County to gain valuable skills for future employment. I am beyond grateful that Elian brought this amazing program to my attention.
Exploration Station Suite of Extended Services
February Break - Register your child today!
Afternoon Programs – drop in options are available – register here.
Snow day coverage – DRC facilities and staff will be available for local school snow days – per day fees apply. Learn more here.
Sap Run (walk) 5 & 10K
Deep Root Center and The Yoga Loft are teaming up to co-sponsor this 5 & 10K run (walk) to be held on March 28th at the Remington Trail in Canton. Play on joining us and register online. Your registration fee benefits both The Yoga Loft and Deep Root Center.
Do you first notice the effort, or errors?
Do you recognize the growth, or only see the immaturity?
Is their pain visible to you, or do you only note, and then emphasize their behaviors?
Do you focus on the potential, or do you obsess over the problems?
Can you gratefully accept a challenge, or will you throw up your hands in defeat?
Do you detect the beauty within imperfection, or will you discard it like trash?
Do you question why a five-year-old needs a special room at school to de-stress, or do you accept that pressure is an essential part of life for even the youngest among us?
Do you wonder why coercion is an immense component of our culture, or do you accept it as inevitable?
Your perspective is a powerful tool. Those initial interpretations will automatically determine your response, as well as the impact you will have on someone’s life.
Will you be an agent of affirmation, possibilities, empathy, and change, or will you be a curator of the status quo?
Have you checked out the DRC Exploration Station Suite of extended services? If your family needs programming in the afternoon, during school breaks, or on snow days we are here for you.
You and I, each, have opinions formed from our experiences and personal understanding, or perceptions of the world around us. Those convictions, however, give neither of us permission, nor an obligation to place judgment on each other, or anyone else for their life choices and beliefs and ideologies.
This may seem like a pretty straightforward concept; nevertheless, our culture is over-run with criticism, and overwrought, moral outrage in response to other people who are simply living their everyday lives. We seem to think that it is okay to judge, and yes, shame, someone for the clothes they wear, the way they style their hair, their body type or size, the color of their skin, the type of foods they eat (or don’t eat), how they spend their money (whether they are poor or not), how they earn their money, the house they live in, the type of pets they own, the number of children they have, including their reproductive choices, their gender identity and sexual preferences, the God, or Gods they worship, along with their spiritual beliefs, all the way to their method and approach to learning, as well as the choices they make to educate themselves and their family.
This serves as a reminder; as long as no part of someone’s physicality, lifestyle, or personal life choices are actively or potentially going to harm another, we have absolutely no responsibility, duty, or reason to place judgement on that person’s life. It is quite simply none of our business. The end!
Despite the seeming finality of that last exclamation, the above was just the beginning of my thought processes around judgment. All those assessments that we hand out, heedlessly, are based purely on our personal biases. Our thoughtless evaluations are the foundation for the indiscriminate assignations we place on people. What we can’t seem to grasp is that those insidious labels do irreparable harm.
Once a label is designated within your mind - not only will you begin to treat that person by their assigned tag – but others will too. Fairly quickly, everyone will recognize that person by their label, including the individual themselves. You know on a profound level that this happens all the time – you hear about the bad kid, the violent kid, the troubled teen, or the LD kid. “He is 5 and can’t read!” “He can’t focus or sit still in the classroom!” “They can’t seem to follow the instructions.” “She is provocative - she wears leggings and camisoles.” Or, “They must be troubled - they refuse to go to school – are gender non-conforming - have tattoos, piercings, and weird hair - listen to rap and Hip-Hop - play computer games – are on their phones all day - and … you do know who their older brother is – right ...”
The labels follow them wherever they go. It is especially hard to outrun your designated status, here in the NoCo, with our minuscule population, where everyone either knows (is related to), or has heard of you and your family.
Eventually, the child (teen) adopts the persona that has been, so handily, imposed upon them. In their minds, they really are the “bad,” “dumb,” or “worthless” kid, which in addition to becoming anxious, depressed, and completely overwhelmed, gives them the excuse to behave accordingly. And, then, we scratch our heads and try to “solve” the “problem,” that we in essence have created for them, by reinforcing their personally held convictions, with coercive and controlling methodologies and programs.
We are all guilty of this! Which is the main reason I tell families that I don’t want to see school records. I don’t want to hear about the labels that have been assigned to their child. In my estimation, they are nothing more than a rap sheet that, I know, will unconsciously affect my perceptions and the way I work with that child.
Through my daily interactions and conversations, and weekly mentoring sessions, I spend an enormous amount of time trying to erase the closely held, damaging beliefs kids have about themselves, and replace those with positive affirmations. “You are awesome.” “The way your brain works is genius.” “You have great ideas.” “Your artwork is brilliant.” “I am so proud of the way you handled that situation.” “I really like how you stuck with it, and worked that out for yourself.” “I couldn’t figure that out, but you did.” “I am glad that you were willing to help X with that project.” “That hack was amazing. I am glad you showed me.” “You can do anything that you put your mind too.” “You were incredibly kind, and thoughtful just now.” Or, simply, “thank you for being you - I appreciate you.”
My greatest hope is that my encouraging messages and observations will take hold, before they harm themselves, someone else, or do something illegal, because of those internalized convictions, and face extreme consequences within our society. My dominant fear is that my efforts will be too late.
Don’t miss out! DRC is extending our Exploration Station afternoon programming to the February School Break – 2/17-21. Drop-in options are available, as well as extended afternoon programming. Check it out here, and register today!