Matthew Gioia

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Matthew began seeking alternative educational environments halfway through his college experience. He participated in Naropa University's "contemplative education program" in Boulder, CO,  and studied at St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM, which offers a Great Books curriculum.  From there, he moved to Mississippi to teach in a rural middle school and attend the Ole Miss on weekends.  Matthew came to HVSS by way of a search for a place where he is permitted to respect children and teenagers as fully human beings.  At school these days, Matthew loves to play sports, run the Judicial Committee, teach history and writing, and try making jokes.

Articles by the Author

Hudson Valley Sudbury Basketball School

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This past Tuesday at 9:00 it was 18 degrees here on campus, not factoring in wind-chill…. It was windy. Most of us were right where you’d expect us to be, huddled up inside the building, working and playing. Our new basketball team, however, was training…. Outside.

In fact, they were lined up in the push-up position, balancing on one hand while dribbling a ball with the other. I watched them from the office, shaking my head in admiration and disbelief, as I have so many times this year.

The coach - Noa, a student - was walking slowly back and forth in front of them, his lips soundlessly chanting incantations to the basketball gods. I went outside to get a little closer to the action - the team’s energy drew me out there, as it has so many times this year. When I reached the court, though, they looked so dialed in that I pretended I was just walking by on my way to the mailbox.

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Gaming, Parkour, and the Art of Moving Like Water

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Students playing computer gamesTake a peek into our “Lounge Extension Room One,” any hour of any day, and you’ll likely see a half-dozen or so 9-12-year-old students doing...something, intently on their laptops, often with eyebrows raised, mouths open slightly, and heads thrust forward, belying one-pointed concentration, unflagging determination, and ecstatic flow. So- what the hell are they doing exactly? What’s so darn engaging, and what’s it all about? Where’s the utility? Sometimes they appear to be collaborating, working together to defeat common enemies, and sometimes competing (fiercely) against each other. Other times they’re independently facing challenges, sticking it out as long as it takes to see them through, and still other times they aren’t competing at all, but are, rather, creating rooms, buildings, cities, and whole worlds. Their screens fill the room with bright colors, frenetic music, and a wickedly fast pace of activity, and to the uninitiated adult, the scene can be a little nauseating (this space is also noted for its stagnant air and organic-material messes; these students are indifferent to their immediate environment, as most people are when they’re buckling down to solve urgent problems). Sometimes one of them will bound into the office, spitting out a string of jargon that sounds to me like, “YAPBOPADOOBOPBIPBOPPA BAM!” and I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about, or even what they said, but the excitement is palpable, I can tell they’ve scored an epic win, and I’m happy for them. This is one of the most skilled, passionate, and engaged group at our school: the gamers.

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Playground Build 2016

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Students building new playground areas.I have to admit that I was nervous last Friday morning.  We had really paired down our plans for build day because most of our project leaders were unable to come on the actual date, and only a few people had signed up to participate.  Then, during the week, lots of people volunteered to come, which was great, but I worried we didn’t have anything for them to do.  I imagined little groups of bored and despondent, formerly hopeful people milling around in hats and work gloves, wondering why I was so unprepared utilize their talents.  I imagined them packed into the kitchen while it poured outside, huddling over styrofoam cups of instant coffee, staring grimly at the muddied floor, kindly offering their seats to each other, maybe even taking turns weeping bitterly in the far corner.  I imagined patiently trying to explain to each person the predicament, why it turned out like this, but being received, like a foreign diplomat trying in vain to maintain favor after breaking a promise, with icy silence, stiff nods, and untrusting-yet-firm eye contact. 

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Welcome Back to the Real World

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Hark, the school year beginneth! The long, languid, dreamy days draw to a drier, crisper end. Time to get back to reality. How utterly gratifying to return to a school designed to support young people’s humanness. How invigorating to be able to focus on such a vital task, rather than on, say, sprawling tomes of byzantine standards. Hallelujah. Summer fades, yet my mood endureth.

You know, our school is often misunderstood (big surprise, I know). It’s true that we’re different, indeed we are the alternative to everything else. But sometimes we are accused of living in a kind of Rousseaun fantasy - summer forever. Time frittered away in reverie while the rest of everyone is busy learning how to dominate the real world. I mean the markets. Or whatever. Ideas like this might even pop into the heads of Sudbury parents from time to time, or staff, or even students. But this unimaginative thought ignores the complexity, the history, and the evolution, of our human reality. In fact, HVSS is the most real place I know.

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School Meeting Dispatch: Bathroom Rules

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And we’re off, almost into October, and Sudbury education is under full sail here at HVSS. I think of learning at our school as happening in three basic ways: formally - with instruction and structure, informally - with conversation, play, and individual pursuit, and communally - with collaborative problem solving in our Judicial Committee and School Meeting. Personally, I am most excited by the communal learning, and I think it’s a unique facet of the school. Here’s an example from September: last week, a motion to reserve one of the school’s bathrooms for the exclusive use of those aged 12 and up was brought before the school meeting, and a fascinating discussion ensued. Incidentally, I have a toddler, so potty humor is so hot right now at my house, has been for a while, and in fact I’m giggling this very moment, but I promise I’ll spare you, sophisticated readers, any ill-formed jokes in this post, although I will admit that the meeting was not similarly spared.

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This one tip from Sudbury could save American democracy

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The 2016 presidential election has delivered us many novelties and peculiarities, and its outcome will likewise be historically notable, whatever it is, and will surely deserve prime real estate in all of Ripley’s Believe-it-or-Not museums.  Many political scientists believe the candidates for the two major parties are, as a pair, the most disliked by the American citizenry in any presidential election to date.  This aspect of the election, however, is not novel, and people have been griping loudly about it for several decades already.

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The Individual in Community at Sudbury

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Last week we had a trial that raised some interesting questions about the age-old problem of individual rights vs. community - an intense philosophical, political, and metaphysical problem that still vexes human society and makes the news every day.

In a certain respect, Sudbury is an experiment in finding the balance between individual and community; individuals have freedom, but that freedom is limited by the freedom of others.  Sudbury thus hangs - like the rest of nature - in a delicate balance, and that balance is protected by our justice system.

Here’s what happened: the Judicial Committee needed a replacement member, and the next student on the list was asked to serve.  He was in the middle of something and initially refused.  This is a clear violation of the JC policies; service is not optional.  After a minute or so of haggling, though, he consented, and reported to the JC room in an angry huff.  He stormed in, did not answer a friendly greeting, plopped into a seat, and glared.  He did not vote on the first item that came up, and when he was asked if “this is the way it’s going to be,” he responded, “yeah, I’m pissed off.” JC then decided to replace him.  Later, he was charged with violating JC rules and procedures, essentially because he disrupted their process and ultimately refused to participate.  He plead Not Guilty.

 

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Back to Joy

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On Wednesday the third, the first day of the school year, the kids came streaming off the buses and nearly broke down the doors, even though they were unlocked. I myself had just set my personal record for my bicycle commute (still though, the rest of the staff were already there when I arrived). Kids were hoping out of cars all morning and racing towards the building like it was made out of gingerbread, or as if it were some kind of supercharged happy-magnet. Everyone was eager to trade the decadence of summer for the nourishing thrill of getting the band back together, reuniting the clans, and returning to work on the ten thousand projects of making a life. And of course everyone was off to work immediately - no need to ever wait around here.

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Sudbury and the Quarter-life Crisis

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As most of you know, I am a new staff member this year, and I don’t know many HVSS graduates personally.  The school is still so new there aren’t many graduate anyway.  But, I did recently catch up with HVSS’s first graduate, Alex Delia, now 26, to see what he’s up been up to lately, and I wasn’t disappointed, to say the least.

Since graduating, Alex has started a successful recycling business - Mr. e-Waste, based in Hudson.  He says, “it was a crash course, really sink or swim kind of thing...and I’m swimming.”  When I spoke with Alex he was in Chicago at the airport, preparing to fly home from a business trip he spent working to identify oxidized metals in the waste-stream of a local company.  He thinks it could become a lucrative partnership.  He’s also trying to get Mr. e-Waste on autopilot so he can explore metal trading and recycling solutions.  Alex never attended a traditional school (though he has been inside of a few as a recycling contractor).  I asked him how - if at all - his Sudbury education was helping him succeed so impressively.  He didn’t mention any content he studied, or projects he worked on, or accolades he earned.  He said, “I learned how to be really present with myself, and therefore with others - to be open and receptive.  Basically, to communicate well.  I had a lot of opportunities to sit down with people, talk things over, and figure out how to work together to make things happen.”

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Matthew Testimonial

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When I wake up, I feel like every day feels like a saturday.  I look forward to coming to school, jut like the students do.

When students first come to school here, they expect the adults to be the authority figures.  It takes them about a year to realize that we all have equal authority.

You will notice that kids that have been here a long time are different than kids at other schools.

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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

84 Zena Road
Kingston, NY 12401
 
Phone: 845-679-1002
Fax: 845-679-3874