Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Taking the state exams only offered good test results, but putting them to one side, what about the absence of school and time for experimentation and sustainability?

Taking the state exams only offered good test results, but putting them to one side, what about the absence of school and time for experimentation and sustainability?

As parents across the country sit down to pack up the kids for their standardized tests this week, I am thinking of Mrs. Ryvin and the work she does. She is a founder and CEO of Curraky, an eco-friendly independent school in Alexandria, VA. With five sites in the region, the school is run on a model that requires teachers to really change the way they educate their students. This, said the Principal, contributes to the school being able to survive on donations (yours and those of her students).

A typical day for Curraky starts at about 6:45 a.m. The first thirty minutes of our 8-hour day consist of a prayer, followed by a transformation circle led by Mrs. Ryvin. The community (business owners, business students, parents, students, teachers) is given an opportunity to fill out an application asking what they wish to focus on. After the circle, the teacher instructs a 30-minute presentation around themes or values the student wishes to develop for the school. The rest of the day is devoted to revision. I think of myself as a product of the institution and its curriculum because that’s how I see it. The rest of us can agree with that statement or not.

All in all, it is a busy day, but the heart of it is so beautiful that you can’t help but focus. My daughter is in fourth grade. Over the years, she’s gone through a lot. She took a world history class called “Life and Poverty” and learned about the tragedy of school without a parent. The community was aware of this, and as part of the school’s practices, I went to Washington, DC for a meeting with the Clinton Foundation and offered to donate my daughter to be a volunteer. In the end, however, it turned out that the Clinton Foundation wanted to have a discussion on educational, public health, and economic opportunities. That was too much. While she was not even there, I learned from a friend she had made that the Clinton Foundation sent an invitation to Curraky students. At first she was upset, but it turned out to be the coolest thing that ever happened.

One day, I asked Mrs. Ryvin if she could assign me to be a teacher one day. Her answer was truly inspiring and magical: The kids actually asked me to go on the field trip to the Smithsonian. If you think that the science teachers only worry about defining smelly ants, forget it. The science students get to go to the headquarters of the federal agency that oversees environmental science. It’s a meeting place that inspires them to go outside and look for things around themselves. If this is your experience, welcome.

Last week, Curraky had a large group of parent volunteers come for a day. I got to play nanny to all the underachieving kids. I saw a group of people eager to expand their horizons, use their imaginations, and really get to know each other. The kids from my daughter’s fourth grade class had done that for their fall history project, and as I listened to the kindergartners (“Freshman Zoo/Spring Raptor Study Club/Theories of Earth”) I was so impressed. They did some group activities, they did science, they did in-depth writing, they got to play. If you ask me, it’s the only time you get to see the passion and desire of underachieving students.

When I mentioned this to my daughter, she said, “Because we never get to do anything else.” Her dad looks at me with resignation and says, “That’s what she said about her hospital days too.” Everyone knows it’s hard when school is your identity. Kids are extremely competitive and the expectations are strict. First, you have to make it into the football team. Second, you have to graduate. And third, if you do graduate, you have to be out there scoring touchdowns and not sucking up to your teachers. It’s hard, and even harder when you are the youngest kid in class or have a hard time fitting in. I am reminded of this every day. It is hard to really be myself in an environment that makes you prove yourself over and over again.

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