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A Fish out of the Hudson - A Sudbury Student goes to India

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You can imagine my excitement when I was invited to speak at The Association of Internation Schools of India (TAISI), the education conference for private schools of India taking place in Goa.

I would get to go to a country halfway across the world on a continent I’d never been to.

I would get to share my views at a conference in a country that’s known to have rigorous views on education.

I was in Germany when I got the invitation email at 1 am. I texted my mom immediately and resisted the urge to wake my brother up and tell him. I was thrilled! I started thinking about what I was going to say. What the goal for my talk would be. I knew I wanted my audience to see my school like I see it. I also wanted them to see there is more than one effective form of education.

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The Elephant in the Room

Recently, Sudbury hosted an open house for prospective families to come and see what we are all about. In addition to the tours of our beautiful school, there was a panel comprised of several students, parents, and a recent graduate. The faces of the prospective Sudbury parents were characterized by that mixture of wonder, eagerness, curiosity, doubt, and pure terror that so many of us are used to encountering when we share our stories out there in “the real world.” (The element of anger, a surprisingly common response, was thankfully absent. These were, after all, families that had sought us out.) I was not on the panel, but at a certain point I felt compelled to say something about the elephant in the room.

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It Feels Good

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Yesterday was the second day of school at The Hudson Valley Sudbury School. For me it was an emotional start to the year. My youngest is now officially enrolled as a fresh five year old, and two of my oldest graduated last year leaving me to start the year without them. It’s been bittersweet. I know that they were ready to leave.  One is at Sarah Lawrence College, not too far from home so I can still lay eyes on him every so often. I look forward to watching him grow, I eagerly await the stories of his classes, his adventures and what it’s like to be a Sudbury grad, and of course to watch him serve as an alumni at various school events. The other has flown across the world to conquer the professional video game stage, signed as a well-paid, pro player on a team in Asia. He’s on a team that is navigating having players who speak 4 different languages; he’s training, he’s greeting fans, he’s keeping color-coded spreadsheets about technical play - the opportunity of a lifetime. They are both exactly where they should be, and they have taken these steps with a grounded confidence that makes me proud. And I’m doing what I can to miss them in a positive way.

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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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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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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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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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Know Thyself - Know Thy Fun

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Student readingLooking through children’s toy catalogs I’m always struck by the language. Scattered throughout the pictures of all sorts of toys, plastic or wood, bright colors or neutral colors, puzzles, trucks, dolls or whatever, there are special snippets of language designed to tell me something important. But what are they telling me? Phrases like “kickstart your child’s play,” “support your child’s development,” and “piano keys that play music and encourage creativity.” They make me suspicious. The first sounds violent, the next obvious, and the last sounds absurd. Since when did piano keys not play music or discourage creativity? Phrases like “helps your baby develop from a crawler to a walker through adaptive technology” are possibly reassuring to those concerned their children might instead develop from a crawler to a swimmer, or perhaps an orthodontist. Phrases like “differentiate among colors and sizes” make me imagine my toddler sorting white and brown eggs into large, extra large and jumbo sizes in an egg factory. 

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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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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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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

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Kingston, NY 12401
 
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