(Fairhaven School parent Renee Switzer wrote the following post for her educational blog. Enjoy!)
I’m so excited to finally meet Peter Gray! He’s coming to speak at my oldest daughter’s school, Fairhaven School, which is the oldest Sudbury school in Maryland. We are lucky to live near it, since there are only a few democratic schools in the world, although there are the most in the U.S (according to the list of Sudbury schools on Wikipedia).
When I first heard about the democratic school model, I didn’t give it more than a passing thought. I didn’t take it more seriously until I met Barbara Dewey’s granddaughter, and I realized the KIND of people who come out of a democratic school environment. This articulate, compassionate, bright young woman was simply a phenomenal individual!
So I began to research the model and was particularly interested in it for the middle school years. My school subscribes to the American Journal of Play, which is a wonderful peer-reviewed journal, and is available in print or free online. This was where I discovered Peter Gray.
Dr. Peter Gray does his research on the value of play in education, and uses Sudbury schools as the venue for his research. They are valuable schools for this type of research because the self-directed model allows for time in the day for play, and the mixed age framework (ages 5-18 at our nearby school) allows for interesting research in the quality of play among mixed ages. The first article of his that I read was Play as a Foundation for Hunter-Gatherer Social Existence. Intrigued, I read more of his work. I liked The Special Value of Child’s Mixed-Age Play, but Playing in the Zone of Proximal Development: Qualities of Self- Directed Age Mixing between Adolescents and Young ... Read More
I spend many hours here on campus alone, working nights and weekends, manning the office in the summer. My colleagues and I always marvel at how much more we can get done when Fairhaven School is empty. We make jokes about it: this place is so much better without the students.
Then one older student enters the office to pick up a work release form. Or maybe a younger student comes in with a parent, looking for a lost phone. No matter the purpose, each time a student breaks the silence of the quiet school, they animate the emptiness and remind me why these fifteen years have mattered. When she does ask for the form, she looks up and perfectly balances familiarity with respect. When he does ask for his phone, he can deal with the setback if it’s not in the office. He can even handle his upset dad. We may check in on school issues, or we may banter back and forth about his Orioles and my Nationals. We have brief interactions, then they leave, and the silence returns, save for the sound of fingers on a keyboard.
Still, memories move around the buildings like shadows, and imagination takes over. Here come the young boys, walk-running down the hall so as not to be written up in JC. A much older student follows, saying the definition of running is when both feet are simultaneously not touching the floor. They all pass the girls in the Quiet Room, reading the Harry Potter series. Again! Maybe the mind travels to the Old Building, where the boy who’s searching for Bigfoot is showing his evidence photos, finally not caring if people make fun. In the Art Room, others cluster around their tiny clay worlds ... Read More
Winding my way through the woods on the first day of school, I am greeted by the first few red and yellow leaves of fall. It’s hard to miss that undeniable crispness in the air. I know when I was a kid, these age-old hallmarks of the fall signaled the end of the freedom of summer. For our students, it’s a whole different ballgame. The start of school isn’t an end to their freedom here; rather, it’s an invitation to dig back in to that challenging Sudbury dance of freedom and responsibility.
Those of you who are familiar with Apples to Apples will be able to appreciate the sentiment in the photo. During the game, one person is the judge and plays a green card. Everyone else has a hand of red cards and carefully chooses the card from their hand that they think the judge will pick as being a perfect fit for the green card. In this instance, from a game of Apples to Apples this week, one student choose to play “The First Day of School” in an attempt to win the green “Glorious” card. Now, usually, when the judge turns over all the red cards that players have put down as considerations for their green card, there’s a bit of hemming and hawing. One may expect a show while the judge carefully narrows it down to the best two and then, much to their audience’s anticipation, unhurriedly makes their final decision. In this case, “The First Day of School” was an instant winner. What interests me most about this is that both students had the same idea- that there is something undeniably “Glorious,” “magnificent,” “delightful,” and “splendid” about the first day of school at Fairhaven!
It’s the end of the second week now and there’s so much ... Read More
Fifteen summers ago. Anyone who remembers the very hot, humid and rain-less summer of 1998 might be surprised to find out how a group of energized people chose to spend their time that year. Instead of vacations or lazy summer days at the beach, the founders and their friends and neighbors gathered to help build Fairhaven School. On any given day, between ten and fifty people would show up on this lovely piece of property in Prince George’s County to dig, hammer, pound, paint, or hoist. With the guidance of founder Romey Pittman, who wore many hats that year, including project manager, building designer, volunteer coordinator and permit runner, as well as two hired contractors, Gary Stiewing and Bambi Tran, volunteers worked day in and day out to create what is now fondly called the Old Building.
Sudbury Valley Board Member Alan White spent the entire summer here; Sam Droege milled much of the timber used for the building, designed the front porch (which became our logo) and designed and built the beautiful Circle Room floor; Beth Stone and Jim and Jancey Reitmulder from the Circle School in Harrisburg, PA also pitched in. Joe Jackson handled all things financial and spent countless hours building; Ray Hartjen, author and supporter of the Sudbury philosophy, videotaped the process. Lindsey Dodson, Alice Wells, Tony Koppers, Linda Jackson, Marty Perkins, Amina Re, Fred Tutman, Joe Boerckel, Gayle Friedman, Niel Rosen, Jim Meyer, Dan Luczak, Bernie Gregory, Jane Gregory, the Banes, the Stewarts, the Autrys, the Fizdales, the Grusky-Foleys, the Bennetts, the Umsteads, as well as twenty members of the Single Volunteers of D.C., and many, many others worked tirelessly throughout that long, hot summer to get the job done. To quote an article written by founder Romey Pittman in the Fairhaven School News that ... Read More
Summer is almost over, and that’s good news for Fairhaven students.
Fairhaven is a school kids can’t wait to get back to!
Fairhaven opens September 3rd.
Since the end of the school year, I have been busy with my building clerkship. My summer routine begins with thorough cleaning of both buildings during which time I make a list of what needs fixing. When school starts up again in 6 weeks, here are some changes that folks will see (or not see):
1. The hole (fist size) in the Lounge no longer exists.
2. Several of the walls in both buildings have fresh coats of paint.
3. New door stops and repairs to doors that always seem to opened and closed by humans with
4. New stairs in the New Building (NB). When the carpet was removed, the cracks in the risers
5. At the time of this post, a new door is being installed in the NB by the computer room.
I am constantly amazed by how these physical structures endure the love and abuse that occur day inand day out of the school year. Additionally, I am aware of the reactions of School Meeting Members (SMMs) to change. The big changes (stairs and doors) had been discussed and approved by SM. Still, I thought a “heads-up” was in order. When we begin the next school year and celebrate our 15th year, I hope that these improvements will help the buildings to serve as a the wonderful learning environment that is and have been Fairhaven School.
Building Maintenance Clerk
What an amazing year! It flew by with so much fun, learning, hard work, friendship, and more. The school is now officially closed and once again, we extend huge thanks to all of you who have supported the school with your interest, time, talent, and resources. We had three spectacular graduates this year who showed us all just what is possible with a self-directed education—confidence, passion, skills, and preparedness to move out into the world and succeed. It has been a wonderful adventure to share this learning community together, an experience to treasure forever.
—all of us at Rising Tide School
As we embark upon our fifteenth year, in my mind, certain students flash before me: the skateboarder, the actor/director, the video gamer, and the dancer. All four of them have lived full lives at school, but their school-age years were consumed with their passions. Hour after hour, day after day, year after year the skateboarder practiced his tricks. The gamer played, learned computer programming, then designed video games. The actor acted in plays, then he wrote and directed his own. The dancer, still enrolled, spends most of her free time in the studio, training for the ballet.
While some students use Fairhaven School as a place to learn and experience a variety of activities and interests, some use the independence of a Sudbury education to become specialists. Unfettered by someone else’s idea of how they should prioritize their time (and liberated from homework), they discover and pursue something with a single-mindedness that is, to this observer, breathtaking. Their dedication and growth calls to mind the older construct of apprenticing with experts, of creating a relationship to an art form or a pursuit that is all-consuming.
It comes as no surprise, then, when we hear from the gamer that he is now pursuing his Master’s in Computer Science (having completed his Bachelor of Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation.) Or when we hear the periodic updates from the professional skateboarder about his accomplishments and sponsorships. We are even not surprised when the actor/director has now set his sights on environmental science. Their discipline, focus, and dedication translate into one thing: a life with purpose.
The other day in a radio interview I heard the director Steven Sodergergh talk about his high school years:
“High school, I never cracked a book. I mean, I got by just on the fact that I read a lot and ... Read More
(Here is another compelling post from Fairhaven School parent and writer Johnna Schmidt. Enjoy!)
In a bid to try to understand how my sons may come to be educated, I’ve been trying to understand how I myself have experienced education. Always a list-maker, I’ve devised the following exercise and have found it clarifying:
Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper. On one side list 4 or 5 of the most significant life-learning, non-academic experiences you’ve had. Don’t worry if you’re not sure you’re getting the very most impactful ones. You can do this again next year and you’ll have a slightly different list. Just think of things that have changed your life, have molded you into who you are. These may be special projects or unexpected hardships, life challenges or opportunities, etc, any context in which that you feel you really learned a great deal.
On the other side, make a list of the 4 or 5 most significant teachers in your life, or academic courses that you’ve taken that have been the most important. Restrict this side to academic-context only learning. Place an asterisk next to the teacher’s name if you consider that person a mentor instead of merely a teacher, that is, you had a one-on-one relationship with that teacher, or some kind of emotional connection, or received advice from them that was especially important.
Take a moment to reflect upon your education as a whole. Looking at your list, what stands out to you? What or who has been the most important?
I have done some version of this exercise with over 20 people at this point. What stood out to me immediately was the distinction between “mentoring” and “teaching.” Very little impactful learning actually seems to occur in traditional classrooms. Most people have had special relationships with ... Read More
a vessel or craft that services others operating far from a home port or center.
Fairhaven School, like all of our sister schools, calls itself a Sudbury school because we have always been affiliated with Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts (“SVS” to many of its students, a “mother ship” to all of us.) Theirs is the largest and the oldest institution operating like we do, and our adoption of their model has always been explicit. Our founders and staff members have attended numerous conferences at SVS over the years, and Fairhaven School staff members have served on SVS diploma committees. We have hosted SVS exchange students, and we call the Sudbury Valley office often with questions. In numerous ways, our fiercely independent school relies upon them. Indeed, we are among the “others operating far from a home port,” and that home port is Sudbury Valley School.
So it is with much excitement and pride that we announce that Sudbury Valley School now has a blog! We encourage anybody who is interested in Fairhaven School and its educational philosophy to follow the SVS blog. Already they have published lovely, insightful posts on a variety of topics, including one of our students’ favorite games, Minecraft, and the crucial idea of agency as it relates to education.
At our recent Alumni Parent Panel, the panelists reflected not only on their children’s process, but on their own process. I left that evening’s discussion with a sense that choosing a Sudbury school education for your children requires a willingness on the part of parents to let go, to trust, to listen. As alumna parent Pat Everret reveals:
“It did make me more aware. It forced me to be more accepting of what my daughter was the way she was… I wasn’t as bent on thinking my way was right, which, I’m guilty of. And I just had to step back and realize, step back and listen… you have to step back and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, it’s time for me to listen more.’ And I had to do a lot of that growing, I’m still trying to do it. But, you know, you’ve got to give them a lot more… I had to give them a lot more faith than I was inclined to at the beginning. I’m still working on it..”
Choosing Fairhaven School also requires faith and trust in your child, as alumni parent Robin Rice advises current parents:
“I would say, trust your child… I don’t want to sound overly fantastical, but I really believe that every child has a genius in them. And they know how to find it if they’re allowed to find it. And they will tell you what it is… they will tell you what they want and they will tell you what they need. And if you listen they’ll find their way… The more I tried to make my agenda the agenda the less it worked, and the more it worked to listen and follow and trust. And it is hard to trust sometimes, it is hard to trust what you see. But ... Read More