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

What are They Doing?

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Well it’s the first warm day of March, and most people here are outside, climbing trees and rolling in the mud, building sandcastles and playing street hockey.  I just played a game a student created called, “Sharktooth.”  I lost.  I was also, for a time, the overburdened father of two very demanding young girls, busily making dinners to order (why do I let them get away with that?!)  while attempting to regulate their screen-time (the “screen” was a slab of bluestone) and mediate their conflicts (you’d have to be a saint to do this well, I assured myself). I had to quit that game after less than an hour.  People sometimes complain about “kids these days” preferring the virtual world to the outdoors, but I don’t think it’s true; when all the obstacles - obstacles that adults have created -  are removed,  they go outside.  A lot, and really in all weather, not only when it’s nice.  But the spirit today is more celebratory than usual.

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Sudbury and the FEAR OF FALLING BEHIND

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Not long ago a parent told me that her son had “never been happier” since he enrolled earlier this spring.  And indeed, that very morning I had seen him running across the back hill with his arms outstretched and his head thrown back; it was like a scene from Free Willy.  His parent told me that, while his former school had stretched itself to make things work for him, he remained miserable there.  His needs, for space and time and companionship, were not being met.  I hear it a lot: it was like trying to fit the old round peg into the unforgiving square hole, but here, at last, there was no hole to conform to.  Out the window at this moment I can see three little bands of kids wandering the grounds, gesticulating excitedly, creating worlds beyond my kin.  One of them has green hair and no shirt.  One of them is carrying a bag by a strap around his forehead.  And one of them is being led by another...on a leash.  It’s so easy to forget that homo sapiens have developed a complex set of needs - and the skills to meet them - over 200,000 years of evolution, and they are embedded in us like algorithms that find expression one way or another.  We need to explore our identities and forge them in the context of intense social interaction in order to be successful, healthy, and happy.  Welcome to our “school.”

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To What Will They Return?

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The best thing about working “in education” is, undoubtedly, the summer. Oh wait, I mean the kids - the best thing is the kids. Wellllll, no - sorry! - it’s the summer, as much as I do love the kids (at least when I’m not responsible for the choices they make, the lessons they learn, the things they say, and the thoughts they think!) For me, having this uninterrupted time to immerse myself in interests and friends old and new, deepen my connection to my home, neighborhood, and region, travel, keep hours regular or irregular, and be with family, is a treasure I guard most jealously; it is a great, fatty, nourishing privilege. For me, just as it is for many children, summer is the Land of Space and Time Enough, which really is the only land fit for human habitation. Each year, I have the space and time to connect with what’s really happening in my inner life; I can let the changes which constantly brew there wash over me. I can, like the flora, exult in a state of robust health and growth. Having significant time in which to direct my own activity makes me feel very, very rich indeed, and in possession of myself, or, to put it slightly differently, free

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Happy, Healthy, Strong

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HVSS does not have an official mission statement; the closest we get is the text of our graduation process, which states that, in order to earn a Certificate of Graduation, a student must prove to a committee that s/he has gained the problem solving skills, adaptability, and abilities necessary to succeed in whatever they are going onto next. This is an imminently sensible goal, honoring as it does the natural richness of humanity by acknowledging that different people will want to live different kinds of lives, and they’ll have to do different things to prepare for it.

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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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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