With one week left to go before the end of our very first semester I thought it might be a good time to share my thoughts on the incredible experience of founding a not for profit private school. The Verdi EcoSchool was born out of frustration and a soul-deep belief that our children deserve more than an educational experience built upon a foundation of standardized assessments and rote memorization. Jean Piaget asserted that children are not "empty vessels to be filled with knowledge" - they are already full of life and bubbling over with curiosity. A trait that will serve them well throughout their lives if we, as parents, as educators can guide them to hone this trait into skill.
The first Verdi EcoSchool class is a diverse group of students from families in our community who may have very different beliefs about what education should look like but they all agree on one thing: our schools need to do more for our children. Thank you to the Verdi EcoSchool families for being willing to join us on this journey and take part in crafting an authentic learning experience for our children. Without you none of this would be possible. We are eternally grateful.
When working with students at our school we often repeat the mantra: "Learn by doing". It is not just meant for the children! We are all learning: our educators, our parents - all of us - learning how to turn real life experiences into learning moments that will resonate beyond the lessons of the day. Learning how to collaborate, engage and function effectively way outside of our comfort zone. Learning when to encourage a student to continue to push and learning when to, sadly, say goodbye.
Here is what I have learned:
1. The Verdi EcoSchool is not the right school for every family.
I thought I knew this before we offered an invitation to our very first family - I was wrong. I knew that some students would thrive in the traditional school system and stumble in a self-directed learning environment. I knew that some families would feel that a college prep school would give their children a better shot at success as adults. I knew it but I didn't believe it. Losing a school family is a blow. There is a feeling of failure attached to those goodbyes that nothing could have prepared me for.
2. Volunteers are golden.
In many ways our volunteers made the growth of the Verdi EcoSchool possible. From the volunteer who later signed on to become an educator to the avid permaculturists who, quite literally, broke ground on our urban farm to make cultivating food possible. Volunteers are the lifeblood of a not for profit organization and I underestimated just how much I would come to rely on them for their help, guidance and support.
3. Growing food ain't easy!
Urban farm schools teach students core academic subjects through a connection to agriculture and gardening. Our students learn the basics of soil/plant science and how to maintain healthy, growing food in an urban environment. Our farm is an essential component to our school philosophy but also a source of continual frustration. From squirrels to nutrient deficiencies, aphids to ants and powdery mildew to drought there is always a near catastrophe to be averted!
4. There is no such thing as too much planning time.
Educators are innovators. Creative problem solvers who can figure out how to prep and feed 20 children a student made lunch while covering pre-algebraic functions IF they have enough time to plan. Planning time is sacrosanct and the more you have the better each student's (and educator's!) experience will be.
5. Help is not a bad word.
I need it. You need it. We all need it sometimes.
6. Don't forget to have fun.
Children know this instinctively. There is a joy that overcomes them when they realize that school can be much more than just tests and worksheets - this is when learning truly begins. I am reminding myself to follow their example: enjoy the moment. School doesn't have to hurt.