While skipping toward the school one day, she called over her shoulder “Mommy, I want to change schools.” A confident third grader. Blonde pony tail bouncing as she skipped along. I can recall the smell of Spring, blue skies overhead, and watching in wonder as my daughter proclaimed her new found truth.
For the next two years, she continued to ask to switch schools. At the time, status-quo seemed the easiest solution for our family. Neighborhood school, familiar faces, and a solid sense of community – “why make a change?” I’d inquire, dismissing her request.
Sixth grade came, a time of big transitions. The year-end continuation ceremony lurked in the distance. Soon she’d be off to middle school. She continued to ask for a new environment. “The neighborhood middle school will be different, I promise,” I’d say with confidence. However, she kept begging for a change. She wanted more than just new faces. She yearned for something that our cozy community could not offer. “Mom, I just haven’t found my people yet.”
Mom, I just haven’t found my people yet?!
We’d heard her pleas, but it was clearly time for us to truly listen to her truth.
We began researching schools in the area. Lots of choices. Most catered to the same “white-washed suburban” community. As we interviewed schools I’d ask “do these seem like your people?” At first, nothing was a fit.
Finally, we found a school that peeked her interest. It was of the “Open School” variety. In addition to a standard curriculum for literacy, math, and science — the students are encouraged to make the world their classroom. They offer many unconventional learning opportunities including wilderness and outreach trips, apprenticeships at local businesses, independent study, and a much larger adult-to-student ratio.
While visiting the school, it became obvious that my daughter was going to thrive. The community was very eclectic. Socially, economically, and racially diverse. Where the schools in our area are overflowing with a homogenous group of mostly white kids wearing skinny jeans, Aeropostale shirts, and tame hair styles… the Open School community was made up of dreadlocks, unique hair colors, piercings, and a wide range of fashion trends. Stepping into the building was like a flash back from my college days where big ideas were king, and a person could reach the stars if they set their mind to it. The focus was less on test scores and more on personal growth and development.
She’d arrived at her place. These were her people.
Now, two years later, I look back and wonder why it took so long to make the change. Life in our community is good. But the world is a big place, and the Open School is where my daughter thrives.
Over the past two years, she has accomplished the following things that may not have been possible in the confines of our traditional neighborhood school:
- Apprenticeship at a local pet store where she cared for animals and gained real-world work experience. Someday she wants to work with animals. Through the apprenticeship process she learned how to approach a business owner and ask for a job. She was also required to submit a proposal and gain advisor approval. She learned valuable skills in public speaking when she wrapped up the experience in front of her school community during a junior- and senior-high assembly.
- As a long-time participant in Girl Scouts, she leveraged her Silver Project into an independent study which was required to complete 7th and 8th grade. Her work on a real-life project is now incorporated into her middle school transcript. Pretty cool, indeed!
- Travel is a huge part of the program. Over the past 2 years she has gone on 2 extended camping trips, as well as service and historical trips to both Key West and Pittsburg.
- She’s taken on important leadership roles in fundraising for various trips. This involved planning, contacting numerous businesses, and organizing the efforts of many students for the actual sales process.
- This year she went through a formal application process to work at the student-run Cafe. Resume, interview and work… all in the confines of the school. A great opportunity for any middle-school student!
She returned from a 9 day trip to Pittsburg today. At 14, it was hard to let her go for that long. But, she worked hard on the fundraising, participated in outreach, and learned a lot about artistic and cultural history… She also gained perspective from traveling with a diverse group of people, and how to resolve conflict when you are stuck with the same friends for a long period of time away from home. These are all lessons that cannot be learned within the borders of our neighborhood.
No longer a small, pony-tailed, third-grader… She’s now a confident young lady, able to advocate for her dreams, and willing to work hard to achieve them. She still, however, has crystal blue eyes and enjoys skipping to her own beat.
“Mom! Come jump on the trampoline with me! I haven’t seen you in 9 days!”
I guess she’ll always be my little girl… I’m glad we listened, allowed a change, and have been able to see her thrive with her people!
Uh, gotta go! She’s waiting for me to join her on the trampoline… I don’t want to miss this moment!
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