Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Science of Change

Written 28 Nov on the back a homework assignment in a moment of enlightenment

We are often comfortable with our position but when we are stretched our density changes too. We just feel the stretching and uncomfortableness but then when we look around we see that by expanding and being pulled and moving forward we are less dense inside and what we have known to be then seems like a thin broth in need of fleshing out and packing in knowledge and experiences (reflections) to fill those holes that never existed before. Our full, whole world suddenly becomes in need of thinking, defining, and exploring the framework of beliefs that still exists but now are not sufficient to operate in this new world and new positioning of me in my world.

Monday, November 14, 2005


So before today I had never thrown students out of my classes before. But today I kicked 5 people out of classes. Three from skills, one from science (actually one of the ones from skills), and one from a math class I subbed. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I think I went on a power trip...but maybe it was more like a collision of odds. In Skills they were taking a test and these kids finished early and won't stop fooling around. In science the kid woouldn't stop talking and fooling around. In Math the kid was playing with a girl's crutches while my back was turned. Craziness.

But I will have to figure out where my lines are and give warnings to kids. I don't believe in no chances, except when its something like the crutches. That's ust ridiculous. They know better. Oh, they are so much worse when I'm subbing. It's crazy. Probably because some of the work is silly...busy work to make it easy on the sub. And because they do not deal well with change. Transitions are really hard for most kids and for the group as a whole. I'd like to ruminate on that subject some more, but I need to make sure I am set for another day tomorrow.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Halloween Dance

Ben and I went to the Halloween Dance at Great Falls last night. WE are green crayons at the suggestion of one of my students. I couldn't think of anything better. Students were having so much fun. I guess a few years ago they decided that since lots of kids don't like to dance the teachers would provide other activities. So the teachers opened up the classrooms and kids can decorate cookies, make smores, make butterscotch spiders, do a doughnut race, etc. The kids also submitted over 400 songs to the DJ. It was fantastic! People had so much fun. Ben and I helped judge the costumes. Tonight we will recycle our costumes by going to Randy's Halloween Party. Should be fun!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Parents Meeting

I sat in on a meeting of the 8th grade teachers, 2 interventionists, adjustment councelor, principle, and the parents of a 8th grade boy today. Teachers had been observing disruptive bahavior in the classroom even though the boy can do all he work and is mainly successful. Everyone expressed how bright he is and how much excess energy he has. The teachers also said that the football coaches couldn't believe that teachers are having problems with him because he is such a focused leader on the field. It was wonderful to see concerned parents and teachers and I liked the emphasis on helping him succeed. But I couldn't help but wonder if we in society are trying to fit students like him into a box that is not right for them.

Being in public school this week has made me more jittery and bouncy than I have ever felt before. So I wonder, could public schools be the cause of the overdiagnosis of ADD and ADHD? I say that with a smile because I know there is more to it than that. I know medications can help people function normally and I do believe they have a place. But containing young people in one building for all but maybe an hour of the day is torture for some. I guess I just feel for this kid partly because I am trying to work through my own feelings of being trapped in a school all day. I have never had this experience before and I am going stir crazy. I am determined to take kids outside the first chance I have. I have to make it work because this is so unnatural and unhealthy!!! There is still a part of me that cries out "don't let them drug you to make you fit into their box for you in this society...run away!!!!" I cannot completely rid myself of the conspiracy theory of drugs like that, even though I take medications myself.

Kids just need to run around and explore! Why must they be kept under lock and key and hall pass?!? I know now that I would have never survived public schools. NEVER. Thanks Mom and Dad!!!! xo

Monday, September 12, 2005

Self Esteem...gosh am I tired!

Written during Silent Reading time today...

Barbara said in class: "The way to improve students' self esteem is to be really specific about their strengths; avoid language like "good" and "smart"

Why is it that come kids don't listen or know what is going on in class? What are they thinking about? I would feel better if they were day-dreaming about fun and exploratory things, but it is more likely they are thinking about home life, social life, or cruel sick jokes.

On another topic:
It is fine for students to be different (in dress or likes/dislikes), I even encourage it, but they need to know they are doing that and own their identity as such. Problems occur when students don't realize that they wear clothes or do things that others think are silly and they fine out in a harsh manner with much embarrassment. This is where feeling unaccepted often leads to conformity (out of survival, really). But if a student knows they are different and owns that characteristic they can stay strong. Unfortunately I feel like everyone wants to be accepted and so I'm not sure if it is possible to go through secondary education unscathed. I'm sure everyone can remember the terrible feeling when you realize that you are the only one wearing sneakers when everyone else is in sandals or you are the only one in a t-shirt and jeans when everyone else is in shorts. I can certainly remember almost feeling sick and wanting to run back into my closet to find anything better.

But then again, how can people help young people make the decision not to conform and hold to their identity of dress, etc?? If you just ask them if they understand that they look strange to others and want to stay strong, it is still embarrassing because you are still someone giving them the raw truth that they won't fit in. It almost has nothing to do with knowing about how your actual characteristics are viewed and more to do with general self esteem. But not entirely.

There is still that time of coming into self awareness and the awareness of our surroundings. There still is that point of going from just hearing "some people treat others unfairly because of how they look or what they do" to seeing and feeling the sharp painful reality of injustice, bullying, social status, and our "place" in the world. Everyone has to go through that process and decide what to do about our characteristics that we can change and how to live with the ones we can't change.

But how can we help teenagers understand how they appear to others and the choices they have to make about their identity before the wind gets knocked out of them by their peers? Is it possible to save them or help them? Would any teen want to dress as they always have if they were told by a trusted adult "people are going to laugh at you and you need to decide what you are going to do about that and if you want to change?" I have no answers...I need feedback.

I am soooooo tired.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Who I Have Been Made To Be And Who I Have Been Told I Am

I haven't been able to think about the Peer Leadership Program without wanting to cry and sinking into completely dismal thoughts of my own injuries. But I tried to stop that today. I was reading educational research articles about science education approaches. The teenagers were being asked to reflect on scientific principles and their own understanding of the world. Very interesting thoughts, but the teenagers had developed this attitude of "well I don't think carnivores exist because when animals eat herbivores there are plants in that stomach and so all carnivores are really omnivores" and other similar ridiculous statements. The questioning was great and the study showed that these students remember the content longer. But the teacher couldn't handle the class and didn't know how to respond. I don't get that. I don't know what the teacher's problem was. I'd just say "your questioning is great, but the stubborn arrogance needs to go...you need to question while seeking to understand and respecting hundreds of years of scientific research...you can't assume that you can prove a basic principle wrong just because it doesn't jive with your current worldview."

It upsets me when teachers don't seem to know what to do with the developmental place that teenagers are at. It's not he teachers' fault...education doesn't focus enough on developing the character and leadership of students. This study and stories made me think once again that if students are taught values of respect and seeking to understand, this questioning could be a lot more fruitful.

This, of course, brought me to my baby: peer leadership. At this point I looked longingly out the windows of Upham Hall and wished the past had taken another route. It was then I realized that all the hurt inside me was preventing me from even beginning to think about the topic I am most interested in. I was unsupported, tricked into thinking I was apprieciated, backstabbed, and lead to believe that my opinion mattered and in the end they were only power-hungry dictators. I live with a man inside my head discouraging me, staring me down, and making me feel insignificant. My sanctuary was turned into a hell on earth. But we all succeeded too. I saw glimpses of my theory of peer leadership attested to and making a difference. Kids were explaining eating disorders to their friends. Walls were taken down between grade levels. Kids were apprieciating kids they don't ussually talk to. Peer leadership does work.

So how do I silence the the evil memories that repeat themselves over and over and over? I'm not entirely sure, but I need to start to believe that it wasn't my fault. There was no problem with the program, the protocol, the books, the thought process, the grants, the community relationships, the kids, or me. If B ever reads this I know what he would think, I know what he would say, but I need to not care what he thinks, the excuses he makes, the pain he would continue to cause. I need to move on. I know what was right and what succeeded. I know it was not my fault. Wow, that feels good to say. Even now I cry, but peer leadership works and it is my job to prove it to the world. I always try to see things from other people's perspectives, but seeing the world from a twisted point of view only makes things appear as they are not. I am tired of rumors based on things that are not, relationships that are based on things that are not, and leadership decisions that are based on things that are not. People who bully and hurt others do not see the world as it really is and nothing they say can be trusted as balanced and godly. Goodbye FBC. Judgement will come on us all in the end and God will revenge my tears and the wasted opportunities.

And now...FORWARD. Peer leadership is based on the idea that teens listen to each other more than they listen to adults, so if teens of all age levels are taught facts about problems teens face and values that help them be strong people then they may be our greatest hope in helping teenagers today. It is also based on teaching values, respect, relational skills, encouragement, and a positive way to look at all people and things. These elements can be taught to all teens but are very important for peer leaders to understand...partially because grade seperation is such a huge issue. Grades need to be desegregated and peer leadership helps break down these barriers and mean attitudes especially towards younger students. At Winter Retreat 2003 we did an exercise meant to break down stereotypes and barriers in which we broke the teens up into groups by race, grade, and gender. When we split middle schoolers and high schoolers some high schoolers started making derogatory remarks about the middle schoolers. I was furious and chewed them out for it. They appologized. But that story reminds me how important this is. Winter Retreat 2004 we saw many barriers come down between these groups, which seemed like a miracle but made me remember that it is possible. And peer leadership can help.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Alexia's Point

Alexia made a great point. What about foster kids and kids who have no opportunities? Along similar lines, I had been thinking about the cost of the school (as a starting point). I'd love for the school to be free. But that is unrealistic. So I thought about making tuition be a percentage of parent's income. That could work. I'd also like to offer bartering options. So parents who landscape could mow our lawns, farms can donate food, doctors could donate clinic hours or other benefits, etc. You get the point. So that could help some kids. But what if kids don't have guardians like that?? Good question. Well if tuition is a percentage of parent's income and they don't have parents, then it could be free or really low. But how would they get there and be supported through it all? We could have a certain number of slots for these kids and even offer housing. They would still have to be pretty motivated kids to go through the process of applying and wanting something different.

What about the kids who don't know there is anything different or who cannot even see that far ahead of themselves? We could have a program internally for foster kids, kind of like a school-based foster home. But what about kids with issues? Can we do anything for them or would it be disruptive? It is hard to pair genius kids with struggling ones in one class, but we shouldn't let their issues leave them behind. There is sometimes only so much we can do, but I don't want a school for smart kids. I want a school for motivated kids who need someone to believe in them and place to carry that out. What about the 6th grader who can't tell time? Do we have a track for struggling students? Can we afford one-on-one time in a private school setting with no government funding? Is any of this financially stable? Can kids with behavior issues possibly succeed in a do-it-yourself environment with many freedoms? I just don't know.

The bottom line is that I want this school to be accessible. Now kids who don't know they want something different, that's another question. Do we help kids see that they could be something better in a different environment? Should we take on major issues or some at least? How can we at least build bridges between the school and kids with issues in the community? Would that be beneficial to either side??

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Complete Recent Thought Process of the Genesis School (really long)

Original thought: middle school/high school mainly boarding. But then you have to deal with all the boarding crap that comes from that. Rich parents without any connection to their children and kids without enough supervision.

Maybe this is too intense for middle/high school. Maybe it should be a college. But, no. There are lots of creative options in colleges…the whole point is that there are few creative middle/high schools with individual foci.

So if it is not boarding then it needs to be near a city or metropolitan area with enough people to go to the school. We could open it up to anyone and have slots for boarding students or place boarding students with teacher families since the teachers would mostly live on the property anyway.

Side note: financially teachers would probably want to own their own houses…but what about resale? Financially if teacher’s owned their own houses then they would have an investment, but if people had to be teachers to live in those houses then it would be hard to resell them. But if the school owned the houses the teachers would not have investment or equity. Idea: what if when we buy the land in the first place we put in a development to raise the money for the building of the school where the teachers could live and anyone else. Then the teachers could be encouraged to live there (maybe the school could pay the downpayment if the teachers would agree to live in the housing development near the school) and could also be able to resell their house. And maybe the school could own a couple residences for those who did not want to own their own house. Interesting, but then how would students live with teachers? Would all the houses be big enough to have boarders in? Or should the school just own the houses and sell them to the teachers? Or the school could own a couple houses to rent, teachers could live in the development, or teachers could buy land from the school and build their own house, which the school could have first rights to buy later or it could be sold to someone else outside, like some of the houses in the development. Of course all the houses in the development would be sustainable, passive and active solar, energy efficient, really cool houses too…no cookie cutter houses please. So the housing development would almost be like a co-housing development if you were involved with the school…and maybe their could be a connection with the rest of the residents and the community of the school. Hmm…that would actually lead to a few too many meetings…residential and school community decisions…yikes.

Off the side note: let’s put the school where there are lots of people and put the boarding students in houses with teachers/staff for now.

OKAY…think circles. Think community. Maybe M-Th people could rotate to do community meals for all boarders and any other staff who wanted to with the help of the fulltime kitchen staff. And maybe Sunday night could be a big community meal for all staff and all boarders and any other students who wanted to come. Maybe with some talk and discussion afterwards. Friday and Sat something could be provided for the boarders, but not be teachers so they get a break. Family time maybe. Ben reminded me this morning that people need time for their own families too. True. I get so into the community stuff that I somehow forget that I like to be alone a lot of the time. Right….

I came up with a more detailed time schedule. You see, the daily schedule and housing arrangements speak to me more about what the vision of the school is more than writing a vision statement, although I should start that too. I need to start a list of words I want to describe the school.

Insane. Yeah maybe, but, hey, I’m just building ideas here!

Anyway, Daily Schedule: from 8-12:00 M-Th would be core classes: math, literature & writing, history, and science. 12-2:00 would be siesta, a time for Frisbee, napping, studying, eating, meeting informally, etc. 2-4:00 would be Personal Focus time, during which one day per week students would be working, one-three days per week be taking a specialized course or doing independent projects. 4-6:00 would be time for sports or just the end of the day. After 6:00 sometime would be community meals. NOW, Fridays would be different. Fridays would be work/community service…however you work it, four hours of each. This would be a prep, meet with students, organize fun things, etc. day for teachers. Saturdays would be time for special trips, conferences, etc. Sundays people could go to whatever church and then maybe have a meditation time in the afternoon followed by a big community meal (maybe day students would be required to attend 6 per session or something). With talk/discussion after.

I am trying not to make this too intense. Really, honest! Oh and breakfast would be 7-8 with (optional) prayer time at 7:30.

More about personal focus time: Students can do three different things or one main thing. They have three slots per week to fill with a combination of organized focus classes, independent study, or group projects. Personal foci can be on anything! Hopefully we will have a diverse faculty with enough interests/knowledge to accommodate most things the students throw at us. For example students can write a play, make a film, conduct an experiment, research migration of birds around the school, create and install a sculpture, intern with a local business or firm, research genealogy, make a book, build a solar car, train for a race, put on a show/play, build a web site, or write about a famous philosopher. These are big to small projects (depending on what else they are doing). They can last one semester or more. Independent/group projects should be created by students and their mentor and have some system of accountability. The organized personal focus classes will be run by teachers. I might teach a class on recycled art. I might also do a class on local ecology and team up with a naturalist from a nearby preserve to help examine the ecosystem surrounding the school. I would also advise my students and help any students who needed my knowledge.

I also want the school to be really flexible. If students want to take college classes or really need to do community service on Monday morning we can work with them to make up the other work and adjust their schedule.

Genesis Pedagogy Structure

Foundation of the School:

Pillars of the School:
Social Justice
International Connections

We are, we are...the faculty of the Genesis School

I call this the Statement of Being, which is like a belief statement for the faculty community and of course will trickle down into the mission statement eventually. It is meant to be humorous and I want it to stay that way, but we will see what is practical in the end.

We are evangelical, but not necessarily conservative.
We are artists, philosophers, construction workers, historians, social workers, nurses, engineers, painters, teachers, husbands, wives, children, parents, cooks, teachers, musicians, scientists, discoverers, lovers, writers, thespians, hairdressers, small business owners, counselors, youth workers, homemakers, doctors, and children of God.
We are appalled by most televangelists.
We love the Daily Show's Godstuff and the Wittenburg Door.
We drink, dance, smoke cigars, and wear pants all with discernment, responsibility, and respect for others who do not.
We care for the earth and its resources as God instructed us to: sustainably and wisely.
We try our best to dialogue instead of debate, placing relationships above our opinions.
We attempt with vigor to share most things in common, quickly forgive one another, be vulnerable, pray for one another, seek feedback for personal growth, respect personal boundaries, laugh & play together, reach out to our community, ask questions instead of (make an "ass" out of "u" and "me") assume, inspire one another, and be each other'’s shoulder to cry on. In other words, we live in community.
We believe in the fundamental right of all human beings to life, liberty, food, shelter, education, medical attention, and opportunities.
We believe that God always has a plan even if it is not our preference.
We do not believe that Americans are God's chosen people.
We believe God has called us to make a difference in the lives of people, especially students.
We believe that women can do just about anything men can do, especially math and science (and Barbie dolls are a form of psychological oppression that brainwash girls to think otherwise...well, maybe not)
We believe Jesus spoke a message and command of peace.
We like to barter (and sometimes pretend there is no such thing as money).
We live simply but not without creativity.
We believe that the Bible is the word of God and everything in it is true (although sometimes confusing).
We love to play games, laugh, hang out, watch movies, and talk.
We believe all women should try to learn to drive standard.
We believe that laughter and mountain air can be the best medicine.
We are fueled by motivation from the Holy Spirit and the conviction to serve others.
We like long walks on the beach...oops, I mean hiking, biking, skateboarding, backpacking, boating, rock climbing, running, and swimming.
We value beauty in every way, shape, and form.
We are certain that 4" x 6" cards are the next international revolution.

Advertising Scheme for the Genesis School

I envision full page ads in magazines using these sets of words and definitions. Like Refridgerator Magnet Poetry or something.

The time or circumstances of something’s coming into being
The formation of something
The first book of the Bible, in which the story of the creation of the world is told
An institution for educating
Origin: Old English, via Latin from Greek skhole: leisure, philosophy, a place where lectures are given
To give intellectual, moral or social instruction to someone
Origin: late Middle English, from Latin educere: lead out
To gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught

The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient.
Origin: 1970’s, blend of permanent and agriculture
Verb, past tense
Instilled (a quality) in someone or something
Soaked in liquid to extract the flavor or healing properties
Of conforming to what is generally or traditionally thought of as true or right; established and approved
A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals
Origin: late Middle English, from Old French comunete: reinforced by its source

Of or according to the teaching of the Gospel or the Christian Religion
Of or denoting a tradition within Protestant Christianity emphasizing the authority of the Bible, a personal relationship with God, and the doctrine of salvation by faith in the Atonement
So•cial Jus•tice
The belief in an equitable, compassionate world where difference is understood and valued, and where human dignity, the Earth, our ancestors and future generations are respected.
Equitable access to resources and the benefits derived from them; a system that recognizes inalienable rights and adheres to what is fair, honest, and moral.
Strong and barely controllable emotion
A state or outburst of such emotion
An intense desire or enthusiasm for something

Going to Athol after Wisconsin

So I am now in Whitewater, Wisconsin (the end of week 2) doing a biology research experience internship here for the summer. I have 8 weeks left.

I decided to go to Athol with the Bridges to the Future program in the Fall. It is a small rural school about 40 minutes from Amherst. I am looking forward to it and also slowly realizing how crazy next year is really going to be.

Today I have been brainstorming Genesis School plans. Thanks to Ian for being so enthusiastic about it and thus encouraging me to get back to it. And thanks to Ben for mentioning it to him because I didn't think of it. I will now post some of that stuff.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Rural vs. Urban

I went to Athol Middle School yesterday to interview for te Bridges Program for next year. I am leaning towards going there. There are so many opportuntities to go outside. Plus Seeds of Solidarity Farm is already involved there.

But the rural kids don't realize how well off they really are. They have woods to explore. Urban kids can barely walk around outside without being in danger. Rural classrooms can take kids right outside and go hiking or take pond samples or plant in their new greenhouse. The teacher I think I will be working with does a lot outside, which is very exciting. He has even set up an orienteiring course in the woods.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Blogger in school

We are talking about using blogs in the classroom in Educ 604 here at UMass Amherst. A thought: have a class blog and give extra credit for every post over 50 words. I think I want to use Task Stream and the internet in general in my class as much as possible, even down in Springfield. I know I expect too much of the kids right now...I really don't know what they can handle, but I am really just generating ideas now. Maybe I could use the computer lab once a week for my classes to be writing, researching, etc.

Bob Maloy just said that studies show that on the writing MCAS, student who write in class do better and kids who use powerpoint, internet surfing, or games in class do worse. Makes sense. Powerpoint, internet, and games are not high learning activities and every moment is important to use in a classroom.

Erica said something interesting today. She said that she usually doesn't try to lecture late in the week because students can't listen. It made me worried about how teachers ever can get in enough learning. Miss Stone was also talking about not being able to fit in enough material and how Springfield students cannot comprehend as much knowledge as other students in other places. Kathy also was telling me that the students usually fail the MCAS because a lot of them can't read. A lot of think about.

Friday, March 11, 2005


Kids need to take on their own problems and claim their responsibility for themselves. I learn about this conference tool from Four Rivers Charter School. Instead of parent-teacher conferences, the parents meet with the teacher and their child. The child does the presentation on how they are doing and why they got certain bad grades and what needs to happen to improve their grades. It puts the responsibility on the child and it teaches them self-reflection, which is crucial to every aspect of life. Growing means growing in understand of one's self too. I would like to try this concept in my classroom next year.

One idea I have is to have students fill out a conversation form every Friday. On this would be fun questions I want to know, questions to get them thinking baout themselves, and questions about what they are going to do to succeed (or something like that). It would be fun and then my job would be to give them back the next Tuesday with written comments. My second grade teacher did something similar to this, but without the idea of students taking ownership for their success. As much as possible I want to integrate the idea defining success and setting them on the right path in thinking about their futures.