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

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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School Meeting Dispatch: Sleeping at School

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Last week a motion to ban sleeping at school(!) came before our School Meeting.  Although sleeping isn’t a widespread practice here, it is common to see one or two students sawing logs at some point on any given day, and occasionally certain of the cozier nooks in the building become de-facto napping spots; it’s the “flipped classroom” concept taken swiftly to its apocalyptic  conclusion.  Anyway, there’s a feeling, at least amongst a few of the staff members, myself included, that there is something just a little weird about it.  While it’s true that our students have full responsibility for deciding how to spend their time, sleeping is unique among human activities because the sleeper is unconscious (and can therefore hardly be responsible for themselves).  Besides, sleeping is generally a private act, not a social one, and it comes wrapped in an aura of intimacy - and blankets, and all those blankets and limbs strewn about willy-nilly look sloppy; it’s a little hard on the eyes and it’s probably pretty bad PR.

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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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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
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