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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Alumni Interview with Colin Thrapp

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What have you been up to since graduation?

Well during my last year at school I worked at Outdated Cafe in Kingston one day per week.  I started there doing prep work - chopping vegetables, etc.  After graduation, I jumped right into working full-time as a dishwasher at Outdated, which I did for about six months, before moving on to being a prep cook for 8 months and then finally I was a head cook for the rest of my time there.  The experience showed me that I did really want to be a cook, although I wanted to work somewhere I could prepare food that was a little nicer, and I wanted to learn about meat (and Outdated is a vegetarian cafe).   I wanted broader knowledge of food, so one day I went across the street to the world-class butchery there, Fleishers, and asked the manager Bryan, “what’s the best way to learn how to butcher?” and he said, “Do you want a job?”

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Welcome Back to Choice

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That school bell’s ringin’! Giddap! Whoa! Welcome back, everyone.

As I write this, the rest of the staff are scurrying around, collating files, scrubbin’ tiles, and wrastlin’ crocodiles, puttin in dat elbow grease, while I tap away on my keyboard, 33 tabs open in chrome, planning next summer.  Just kidding - I’m working harder than anyone else, I’m sure you’ll agree.  I happen to be drinking coffee, too, and for some reason today my coffee tastes like grilled cheese, and strangely enough, I love it.  I’m just slurpin’ it down.  Go figure.

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Special Snowflake Syndrome and Other Good Questions

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Earlier this year a new parent mentioned to me that she had suffered through a couple awkward conversations about the school in nearby communities.  The people she had spoken with in these instances made pained, disconcerting facial expressions and offhand remarks about “things they had heard” about HVSS, like “kids play all day at that place!”  She found herself, for the most part, stymied as to how to proceed in these conversations.  Like any self-respecting educator, I’m quick to offer unsolicited advice, so I immediately directed her to read Jeff’s excellent blog post, The Sudbury Conversation, which has good tips on how to begin responding to the negative caricatures of our school which do regrettably exist, lingering in the atmosphere like ghosts from Salem, perhaps belying a puritanical distrust of homo sapiens per se, in this puffy educator’s opinion, at least.

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But What About Academics?

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In part 2 of Special Snowflake Syndrome and Other Good Questions, Matthew answers the question, "But what about academics?"

Learning to read in the abstract, without intrinsic motivation, is difficult; it takes several years to get most students to do it in traditional school environments. In fact, deep and substantial learning of anything absent of such motivation is, perhaps, impossible. But kids are motivated to have fun, connect, and explore, and meaningfully engaging virtually any activity requires, at some point anyway, literacy, so our students learn to read directly from the material from which they want to get information. Some learn because they are fanatical about Minecraft and need to communicate with other players and understand instructions. Some learn because they want to text with their family and friends on their smartphone. Others learn because reading is a gateway to story as well as enormous amounts of information, and they want it. Either way, kids are usually able to accomplish basic literacy if adults simply provide a text-rich environment, stay out the way, and answer questions and provide requested assistance in a straightforward manner.

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But They’ll Just Screw Around All Day!

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Many people - and the institutions they create - insist that kids cannot handle autonomy in their personal lives, that free kids will inevitably use autonomy to debase themselves, developing indulgent self-regard and failing to learn vital skills like the discipline to delay gratification. At other points in history, majorities of people have also insisted that members of particular races, ethnicities, and genders could not handle autonomy either. But this patronizing attitude, a hallmark of someone ensconced in the narrative of Man vs. Nature, has consistently been proven wrong, and it turns out that even kids(!) thrive when they are free, provided they have a basically safe and nourishing environment.

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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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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

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