The February Blues
What's Happening at School this Week?
Well, it's officially February, and the freezing sleet and grey skies are here to prove it. It's like this every year, ain't it, honey? The frogs must know something that we don't; hopefully, perhaps even joyfully, they come out to socialize and procreate, even as the temperature rocks back and forth between deep freeze and the promise of impending shirtless-ness and dips in the swimming hole. Every year around this time, I seem to come down with a case of the February blues. Some deep seated part of me refuses to believe the evidence of my senses that spring is on it's way, and prefers instead to wallow in the grey and recite a litany of woes and worries that leaves me craving a day in bed with a dark, post-apocalyptic novel to keep me company. Note to self: read Mary Oliver in February, not Derrick Jensen. And certainly not Cormac McCarthy.
As hard as I try to keep my February blues from infecting the school, its been an interesting conjunction between the complex, nose-to-the-grindstone feel of our more academic project work and the need to huddle by the fire for relief from grey skies and sleet. In some ways, the two have seemed to support each other. After all, when the world is grey and cold and wet, the written word and the life of the mind can certainly be a welcome relief. On the other hand, "grey and cold and wet" does not describe the ideal environment for young people attempting to stretch their cognitive capacities and build new neural networks around a complex, sometimes daunting task. Definitely something to consider for next year, what the ideal project would look like for this cold, grey time.
One of my biggest takeaways from these projects so far has been the importance of differentiated instruction and expectations when working with such a wide age range. What I really needed was at least 3 different versions of this project, calibrated to different levels of experience and competency. I think the project as it is was designed for the higher end of the spectrum, and the kids at the younger end are barely hanging on. That being said, it seems to me that everyone is making a valiant effort, with a spectacularly small amount of grumbling and complaining. Hopefully as we transition from thinking, designing, and writing into hands-on crafting, there will be some relief for those struggling with too much abstraction.
When I went into class today, I was apprehensive. Yesterday felt like a slog, running from one kid to the next, trying to explain (again) just exactly what it was that I wanted them to do, and even more bafflingly, why they might care about doing it. So I was worried that today would be more of the same, or even worse. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that something seemed to have clicked in the intervening time, and that most kids seemed on track to finish their projects, in one form or another. I was half expecting a revolt, as kids became fed up with things feeling out of their reach, but instead it seemed that perseverance was paying off, that the repetition had sunk in and pretty much everyone was getting it, at least to some degree.
While I would have liked to plan more comprehensively for the range of skill levels in the class, I saw today that the project did have enough flexibility built into it to allow the older kids to challenge themselves more and the younger kids to attain success at something a little simpler. For me, that's one of the biggest advantages of project based education, as opposed to the old-school method of didactic instruction followed by testing. Any project, especially any project that involves interacting with physical objects in the real world, can be done in different ways, and can be made simpler or more complex as needed.
While this session travels on towards its conclusion, the next one is rapidly approaching. In the cold and grey of February, its hard for me to imagine the springtime, even though the evidence is all around me, early wildflowers, chickweed putting on new greenery, the rye cover crop accelerating visibly and filling in the dark field with jewel-bright green. Similarly, it's been hard for me to lift my head above the now enough to imagine our next school session, what it will be like to need shade on a hot day, or retreat from the field in a thunderstorm, or harvest fresh fruits and vegetables. I look forward to a time when I've carried the school enough times around the season that I can remember, as well as look forward, and have some idea of how it will go, and how I need to prepare and respond. For now, I'm allowing myself to stay here, in February, and allowing the spring to come along on its own timeline.
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Come tell us a story!
In this unit on adulthood, coming into our gifts and finding our unique path of service in the world, it would be wonderful to have some personal stories from villagers about their unique life path so far. If there is a story bubbling in you about where life has called you that you may not have suspected, please get in touch and we'll make a time for you to share it!
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Donations are always welcome, in any amount. Financial support is needed in order to ensure that the program remains affordable to all of our hardworking families here at Earthaven. Donating is easy and satisfying! Consider signing up as a patron with a monthly donation, as this predictable income is especially valuable in supporting the financial health of the school.
For our upcoming summer session, The Village School is in need of the following items. If you have any to donate they would be greatly appreciated. Please get in touch with me and I can come pick them up!
Farming and gardening tools of all kinds: Pruners, hoes, rakes, shovels, pruning saws, wheelbarrows, etc...
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What are we reading at school this week?
Loretta Little Looks Back by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Told in the voices of three generations of the fictional Little family, this recreation of African American oral history tells a story of resistance and cultural transmission in the face of sharecropping, Jim Crow, and the white conservative backlash during and after the Civil Rights Movement. Based on members of the authors own family, the Littles tell their story in a voice and style all their own, and convey not only the history, but also the lived experience and the creativity and generative "soul-force" that grew and blossomed through the generations in their family, both out of and despite that experience.