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.
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!
It all begins with the nervous phone call or email (on average 1 or 2 a week). The script is nearly identical for most. “My child is really smart, but miserably unhappy, anxious, depressed, not eating, etc. They are beginning to act out in ways they never have before. They are rarely attending school, or are going to the nurses (guidance office) and calling me after an hour to come and get them. The principal is calling every day and threatening to call (or already has) CPS to report truancy. They are recommending my child be admitted to the Psych. Center. I just don’t know what to do, but I just want my child back and “X” told me that you could help.” In very few cases, the parent has already decided that Deep Root Center and homeschooling is the answer and just want to get everything set up.
My first job, in every single case, is to simply listen on the other end of the phone, offer reassuring murmurs every once in a while, and schedule an appointment. Currently, within that conversation, I have to let them know that Deep Root Center is full; however, I can still help them as a homeschool consultant.
Then we meet. Frequently, my initial impression is an anxious parent (usually Mom) with a quiet, subdued child (or, teen) in tow. After introductions, I either give them a tour or invite them to sit in our “chill space” (living room area) to talk. Upon making sure they are comfy, my opening question is always, “how can I help you?” The responses vary but generally center around their stories. I won’t begin to try to repeat the heartbreaking tales I hear. However, most focus on a child’s needs not being met, multiple failed attempts (by the parent) to advocate for their child and resolve the situation within the system, and their ultimate frustration in dealing with a coercive, dismissive, inflexible, and intimidating authority figure.
By the time a child and a parent are sitting in the DRC “chill space” telling me their story, they are just plain-old tired from dealing with people who won’t listen, and an establishment that is so very entrenched in decades-old methodology that it can’t see the harm they are inflicting on those they are supposed to serve. They are exhausted, at their wit's end, and utterly frightened of leaving a system that tells them that their child will fail life if they opt-out.
My main task, besides writing the NYS required IHIP with the child dictating (which often involves me lightly prodding and asking tons of questions to determine exactly what they want to do), in each of these encounters is tell both the parent(s) and child (teen) that they are going to be absolutely fine. In fact, they will thrive. Most look at me as if I am completely off my rocker - crazy.
Nevertheless, the only thing they really need from me, in that moment, is permission to breathe and to take time to heal. "Yes, everything is going to be OK. Disregard the state mandated curriculum – it is total b*llsh*t anyway. Everything they teach in school can be contained in one small, hackneyed, constraining, dull, and boring box. The world of knowledge is infinite and it is all yours for the taking. First - rest! Then - go! Explore! Open your mind to all the possibilities!”
With those few words, I see (parent and child’s) shoulders dropping, a hint of a smile, and a deep breath. By the time we get to this point, the young person is walking around, exploring the space, asking questions, and engaging comfortably in the conversation. Oftentimes, they both hesitate to end the meeting, because they don’t want to leave the safety of the little cocoon we have spun together. They continue to ask questions, seek reassurance a million times, and then, ever so gently, I remind them (while shepherding them toward the door), “Yes, you are, both, going to be fine. Go out there and be awesome. And, if you need anything, I am only an email away.”
As you have heard, here, several times this Fall, Deep Root Center's Canton facility at 48 Riverside Dr. is at capacity. Hence the above conversations have been extremely hard for me - knowing that I cannot, immediately, offer kids, who need us, a place at DRC. The waiting list now has 13 kids on it.
That will all be changing very soon, when we open a new Center in Lawrenceville (on the eastern- most edge of St. Lawrence County) to be called DRC - East. We will share details as things develop over the next couple months. The plan right now is for it to be open in January when we return from Holiday break - exactly six years after opening our Pilot Program in Canton. Stay tuned for more awesomeness from DRC!
Don't miss a post!
Sign-up here to get the DRC Blog delivered to your inbox.