When I went back to school in 2001, my very focused intent was to become a teacher. Because of a few twists and turns during those two years, I earned my bachelors in anthropology and decided not to go back for my Masters of Science in Teaching (MST).
No, I didn't follow the traditional path, as is quite typical of most things I do, but I did in fact become a teacher. For ten years, my days were spent with 8-12 year olds, learning and growing alongside them. I have always called myself an intuitive teacher. My innate response to any child (young, tween or teen) is “lets explore this together” or “lets play with this and see what we come up with.” Natural excitement for discovery and learning new things is one way I try to capture a child's imagination. I don't have all of the answers, but am always happy and more than willing to help any youth research and learn more about whatever they are interested in. I have always felt story telling and conversation are the most effective tools in any learning environment. I owe all of those kids who passed through my classroom a huge debt of gratitude for everything they taught me about living and about being a teacher; they left an indelible mark on my life, and I carry their lessons with me to all of my future students.
As the years went on, my natural inclination for following the student's lead intensified and induced me to research other models of education. During that exhaustive search that involved nearly six months of reading and on-line exploration, I discovered that my ideas about education are not unique. There are many folks out there who believe that learner centered education is the way of the future. But the one model that resonated with me the most, was a place called North Star: Self Directed Learning for Teens in Hadley, MA (near Amherst). Coincidentally, 'karmicly' or fatefully, whatever world view you hold true, two months after I had stumbled upon their website, North Star held a Replication Conference. The direction and focus of my life completely changed after spending that one weekend learning more about the vision of self-directed learning from Ken Danford, the co-founder and executive director of North Star, and the other folks who had recently opened Centers.
I spent the remainder of last summer, hemming, hawing and dithering about trying to open a center here in Canton. A few of those internal conversations went something like, “who are you kidding, this is Northern NY, no one is going to understand something this new and game changing.” Or, “this is just so out of my league.” And the ever recurring, “who will support this?”
Reflecting back, I feel frustrated at the number of days I wasted, but realize that I required time to learn more about myself and what I am actually capable of. In September, I became completely focused, gathered supporters, formed a board, found a space, jumped through a few of 'offficial-doms' hoops, and by January 7th opened Deep Root Center with one student member.
Now, after completing our Pilot Program, I recognize the mistakes made during the last six months, but I can also celebrate the many successes that occurred during that time. I spent my days with some awesome kids. I have learned how to promote and market a new business, create a business plan, build a budget, file for non-profit status, fearlessly (well mostly) engage people at public events, supported my daughter as an independent learner and witnessed her success, and most importantly asked for what we need, because, if I don't ask, folks don't have the opportunity to reply, “yes”. We are an entity in downtown Canton. People recognize our logo and are asking questions. This is just the beginning and I am so incredibly grateful that Ken was fed up with the educational system in 1996 and founded what became North Star, and that a year ago I had the courage to follow my heart; to make this particular dream a reality for myself and for all of those kids who will discover we are here just for them.
This coming weekend will find me in Hadley, MA at North Star for my second Replication Workshop. I will be there with an abundance of questions for those who are already established, but this time I will have stories and wisdom of my own to pass onto folks who are in the place I was exactly a year ago.
Help Wanted (yup, I am reprising this column in the newsletter/blog)
DRC is looking for a volunteer bookkeeper to create and maintain a bookkeeping system for the Center. This would initially take a few hours, and from there would probably be 1-2 hours per month.