Today as we finish another academic year, this post is dedicated to all the folks who commit their time, dollars, and emotional support to me and Deep Root Center. If it wasn't for them, DRC would not exist.
Friday, as Karen was leaving our final gathering of the 22/23 year, she said, "You are driven to do this." I, of course, protested. But she insisted that because DRC is "my baby," I am dedicated to its survival in a different way than others. And I understand what she means - to a point.
Within the exhaustion, frustration, and, yes, deep anger, I am driven to help as many kids as I can - escape traumatic, unhealthy, or tedious educational situations - so they are free to discover the wonders and excitement of learning - as well as their own pure awesomeness. Because we all deserve that!
But quite honestly, that drive is fueled by all the hordes of folks who have helped along the way these last 10(!) years. If not for them, I would have been defeated long ago. Although it may appear, from the sidelines, that this is a one-woman show, the reality could not be further from the truth.
Deep gratitude to Christopher Raymo, who returned to DRC-Canton this year after a few, quite literally preserving my hide (and sanity). He is the kindest, most steadfast guy who can think on his feet, solve virtually any problem, and is adored by every kiddo at the Center. He does it all without fuss, humbly, and always with a smile.
I will be forever indebted to Karen Gagne and her sidekick Trader for agreeing to return to St. Lawrence County to so very capably take on the leadership of DRC-East. She endured and shined through the move from the church in North Lawrence to the new location at the Massena Housing Authority, several kids transitioning in and out of the Center, and the multitude of everyday challenges that make up life at DRC - with kindness, unwavering dedication to the kids, and always with grace.
I am grateful to the people and organizations who contribute to our bottom line - whether through seasonal donations, monthly contributions, sponsorships, grants, or support of one of our fundraisers. Quite plainly - without money, we could not do our work.
Thanks to our board members - several of whom are brand new and a couple who have been here since the beginning - for taking on this enormous task of keeping DRC fiscally viable, jumping in to help with various projects, and always having my back. I greatly appreciate their support and am delighted to call them my friends.
And finally, thank you to all the DRC kids and their families. If it wasn't for their willingness to "jump ship," try something completely different, and trust the process - there would be no reason for us to exist. Every kid is excited to be here, supporting each other as they learn, grow, and explore all the possibilities together. These kiddos make all of our days a little brighter.
So, as we finish another year (that flew by) of amazing accomplishments - I can only say, Thank You All for sticking with me on this crazy ride!
Weekly Creative Meditation
Have a fantastic summer! We will be back in August for Canton Summer Program and then our Regular Programs will begin September 5th. If your family would like to join us - please get in touch.
Look for our collaborative art piece at the Heritage Park Whimsical Art walk in Canton. It will open on June 10th - with a celebration and party and will remain up for two months during the summer. Thank you to Anneke L. of Grasse River Heritage for inviting DRC to participate.
Thank you (so far) to Potsdam Agway, High Peaks Winery, and ABCD Hardware and Supply for hosting DRC donation buckets. Please support these community minded businesses and while you are there - drop a little love in our buckets. Thank you!
"Go explore and have fun" are the last words I say to every kid (teen) after talking with them and taking notes to write their IHIP (homeschool plan) - whether they are planning to be "in-person" at one of the Centers or are one of the many kids I help through consultation.
Why? Very simply, because they need to hear that learning is enjoyable and is all about individual interests and discovery. And more importantly - most of these kids, like many adults, have had the complete opposite experience. For a large portion, it is, at best, drudgery - and at worst - excruciatingly painful (myself included).
We know that the brain shuts down under stress and discomfort - which means expecting anyone to learn under pressurized, one-size-fits-all, coercive conditions is beyond ridiculous.
Science backs up the integral connection between learning and fun. Play and the inherent joy of natural exploration - ignite creativity, problem-solving skills, and all of that pure awesomeness within each of us.
My instructions will always stand - go - explore, have fun, and in the process you will most likely learn something new today.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This coming Friday is our final day of this academic year. Both Centers will be celebrating with a field trip to my house in the woods to play and roast hotdogs and marshmallows over a campfire.
Enjoy this photo dump from this past week.
*Author note: This is a heavily revised and updated post from February 2019. The basic premise
has not changed in these four years - however, the state of the world is drastically different.
Beyond free-range and non-coercive, the word I use most often to describe the DRC environment is “safe.” Our student members are building a dynamic, ever-evolving community as new kids join us and others leave, where they learn and grow together. Their only formal guide is our community agreement: Respect yourself, each other, and this place.
Our kids can feel safe to be themselves here because we are all taking care of each other. This agreement is all-encompassing in its simplicity.
When they make that promise to each other at DRC, they hold themselves and each other accountable for their behaviors and actions. And within that, they embrace and celebrate all the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make them amazingly authentic individuals.
Some would say, “But, how is that helping them - won’t they expect to be protected everywhere? You can’t shield them from reality.” I will argue - that isn’t the point! So often, kids unintentionally present themselves as targets because they feel inferior, defeated, or just plain sad. They emit an unconscious signal of defenselessness to those who will, without a second thought, take advantage of their personally perceived weakness.
In our role as mentors, we model curiosity, attentiveness to others, honesty, assertiveness, and confidence that are grounded in kindness, humor, and humility, unselfish personal motivation, and strength that has flexibility - but above all, we encourage them to embrace their gifts and to be gentle, trusting spirits without becoming vulnerable targets. In doing so, we teach them to take responsibility for mistakes and use them as guides. And to respond to bullying with a calm, poised demeanor – to walk away from any maliciously inspired conflict with confidence and compassion.
Then when they go out into that competitive world where some people use manipulation, retaliation, cruelty, and vindictiveness, to “win” life, they can use the lessons they have learned here and (hopefully) be unafraid to navigate (and maybe even change) the world as their purely awesome authentic selves.
* Another note: Sometimes, I worry I have not done enough to help some of the seemingly more vulnerable kids - especially the ones I never felt like I built a meaningful connection with or who never allowed me close enough to connect.
Recently, I saw one of those student members (he was job shadowing the plumber who came to "fix" an issue). I always thought I had failed him. He told me that after he left DRC - he took the GED prep class - and within a few months, passed the GED. He said, "If I had known I could get through HS that easily - I would have done it sooner." In hindsight, I realize that even though I did not directly support him in his endeavors, his years at DRC were, in some sense, valuable because he understood that he was in charge of the next step and all he had to do was take it.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Our Raffle fundraiser is still in full swing - purchase your ticket from any DRC Parent or Board member or get in touch with Maria or Karen.
The DRC year is coming to a close. We will be finishing up the week of May 22nd with celebrations at both Centers. Enjoy the photo dump from this past week.
We had a little sister visit Canton for a few days. She will be joining us in the Fall. Little Sis ate a "zebra cake" while making cupcakes, cracked the eggs for it, went fishing, and generally had a fantastic time with the crew! Let us know if you have a little one who would be interested in checking us out.
Happy Mother's Day to all who have nurtured and supported young people and will continue to do so - most especially my Mom, Sharon, my MIL, Bonnie, and all the other folks who have loved and encouraged me through the years.
"How we learn has nothing to do with how brilliant we are."
- Henry Winkler
Virginia G., DRC's newest board member, and volunteer at DRC-East, sent me this quote on Monday with the note that I should use it in my next blog post. So - here you go...
Mr. Winkler' observation is spot on. As individuals, we all learn differently - and as the research catches up to what those of us in the neurodivergent world have understood all along - each of us is utterly brilliant. Every single one of us excels in something (if not many things).
Education - is simply providing the resources and support each child (person) needs (asks for) to explore their natural interests and ambitions. In the process, all that innate brilliance is revealed, and intrinsic motivation is nurtured.
This brings us to the unmistakable conclusion that: School is optional simply because learning is natural.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This is another quote that requires the back story. When I am in the office, doing admin work, I can hear everything going on upstairs. On Monday, I heard E complaining and fussing about the computer she was using. It kept disconnecting from the internet for no apparent reason while she was attempting to participate in a multiplayer game with her friend P. Her grumbling got louder and more strident as her frustration grew.
I went in and said quietly, "You realize you have the power to walk away, right? You don't have to be frustrated and angry. You have options." Then turned to go back to my desk. She took that in and then, after a few beats, stood up and picked up her doll.
Not ten minutes later, I heard her repeating the essence of my message to P, who was frustrated with something in the game she was playing.
This is Free Range, Self-Directed Learning in a nutshell. I didn't demand that she stop playing - I only reminded her that she had options. And because she was able to take charge of what was making her feel icky - she was able to prompt her friend with a similar message.
The DRC 50/50 Raffle is in full swing. Reach out to any DRC family, Board Member, Karen or me to purchase your tickets.
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And finally, a few peeks into the past week at both Centers....
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