I always hesitate to use the word “empower” to describe what we do – however, besides flexible and spontaneous, it is the only one that seems to fit. Our students learn fairly quickly that any proposal they present is, without a doubt, viable. They are free to explore anything that intrigues them. We are here to listen and facilitate. When a student first joins us, they often ask, “can I …?”. Within weeks, or, sometimes days, after consistently receiving the standard response, “of course”, they start saying, “I am going to do” …, or, “we can … ”, knowing full well that we will support them in any of their endeavors.
When people hear that DRC students are in charge of their own education – they often interpret that to mean that these kids are bratty, undisciplined dictators with no regard for others. When, in fact, the complete opposite is true. We are each held personally responsible for all of our choices - those occasional bad decisions are, simply, seen as another valuable learning tool. Within this, our students understand, on a deep level, that respect is at the center of every relationship. We honor all of their ideas and resolve and they, without hesitation, respect our expectations of fair-play, kindness, courtesy, and engaged participation.
Every interaction, activity, and class is infused with this basic philosophy of free choice and heartfelt regard. Last Thursday during our community meeting one student asked if anyone would like to do a holiday gift exchange. After much discussion about the logistics, I am still not certain if we are doing one; however, it was very clear that they wanted to set it up so no one felt obligated to participate.
During that same meeting a teen completely out of the blue said, “let's do a holiday play.” I reminded them that if we did not count our outdoor excursion days, there were only five days before we leave for Winter Break. “No worries, we got this” – she responded. Within half an hour they searched the internet and found a severely annotated script for The Grinch, and had it edited/revised with roles assigned.
A little later that morning, I was informed that the Seedlings were putting together a SpongeBob play. They were printing off images of the characters, coloring and cutting them out, and glueing them onto popsicle sticks to make puppets. The script was also in full collaborative production. I have learned that at DRC one scheme quickly inspires a thousand.
Our Beliefs class, conceived from one teens desire to research Demonology, progressed this Friday, from a planned Paganism discussion, led by one student who brought several resources from home, including a picture book about dinosaurs and a magazine that displayed monsters,
into an unplanned conversation about Witch Craft, which holds a fascination for another teen. The class ended with me making contact with a practicing Witch to see if we could set up a time to meet her via video-conferencing to learn more.
One teen asked if I could help him make a fleece face mask with the “Punisher” appliqued on the front. While we were in the process of designing it, another teen said she would like to make one with a star. At that point several others decided they wanted fleece face masks as well – they will be in full production on Monday.
At one point on Thursday I heard, “I want to bake something” - by the end off the day, we shared a delightfully, tasty frosted nutmeg cake.
The group conversation in the chill space, late Thursday afternoon, revolved around an intense debate about individual opinions which are argued and supported by various resources, such as the Bible. The discussion had the potential of becoming extremely contentious and uncomfortable; however, we were able to talk about how people are prone to seek out specific information that supports their own agenda while ignoring the opposing particulars, without pointing fingers or blaming.. When the student who had provoked the debate – became agitated about presenting something that might not have been entirely true – the seven year old jumped in to say, “but that is how you learn. It is important to make mistakes.”
Amidst all this, the kittens were swaddled in fleece blankets, delighted with the undivided attention during their afternoon naps.
As you can imagine - everyday at DRC is a little bit of an adventure – not much is planned or plotted out (and, if we do start with a plan it is often left on the wayside or incorporated into the new proposition). However, we are always busy, engaged, and learning. All of us understand that every activity, discussion, and voice is important and valued here. We are all encouraged (and yes, feel empowered) to bring our thoughts and ideas forward into this environment, where they can be evaluated, discussed, and acted upon without ridicule or judgment.