Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Clearwater Profiles - Mara

This is the first in a series of profiles of Clearwater students. Clearwater students range in age from three to eighteen, and include kids who've attended since they were three and others who've enrolled later in their schooling.

by Shawna Lee, Clearwater staff member

Mara and I arranged to meet at 1:00 PM and talk about her life at Clearwater. When I tracked her down she was deep in a game with two other girls (10 and 12 years old). All of them were wolves, and Mara was on the hunt for caribou and winter bunnies.

Mara turns 11 in three weeks, and has been at The Clearwater School since she was four years old. This year, she plays a lot of what she calls character and skill games. In character games, she and other players take on different personas, from magic users to animals to warriors. Skill games require the participants to follow clues and solve puzzles in scenarios they create together. Tag games are also a favorite.

Mara, Vera, Jesse and Will

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Computer room redux

The kitchen is back to normal. For over a week at Clearwater the computer room was closed for a serious overhaul. All the computers and furniture was removed. The carpet was torn up, the baseboards pulled off, the concrete floor beneath stripped of linoleum, washed and re-sealed, and given some fresh layers of paint. Meanwhile, nearly all online gaming migrated (via laptops) into the kitchen. 

"It is so loud in here!" Meghan said to me one afternoon in the kitchen, as we looked over at the six students gathered around four laptops playing and watching a multiplayer game. It was indeed loud; there were yells of alarm or triumph as foes advanced or were routed, and a general atmosphere of noisy camaraderie. But it was even louder in the computer room, where Gregory was working by himself (sometimes) with a machine that looked like a lawn mower and felt (according to Gregory, who used it a lot) like a jackhammer to operate. It sounded like a jackhammer too. It included a wide blade that pried up the linoleum. The flooring came up in broken strips that looked like thick pieces of peeling paint. It was slow going; the linoleum had been there a long time and was stuck down hard. 

When they weren't gaming in the kitchen, most of the students who usually use the computer room would take turns doing jobs in the remodeling. The linoleum stripping was actually the second or third step of the process. The first had been the tearing out of the carpet. "The carpet was ugly. It looked nasty and smelled nasty," said Gabriel. Was it hard to pull up? "The carpet, No. The linoleum, yes." That took two or three days of hard work with the jackhammer-lawnmower machine. Periodically Mat R., the staff who also serves on the computer committee, would re-sharpen the blades with a spinning stone that sent bright sparks flying, and made its own noise. At times, there were five or six students in at once, washing, ripping out carpet nails, All in all, a loud set of jobs. 

Once the floor was uncovered and washed, and a crack the students discovered was re-sealed, it was time to paint. Students used long-handled rollers and laid down two coats on the floor, then let it dry before hauling all the desks, chairs and computers back in and re-connecting them. (Later, still another coat was added, accompanied by another trip of all the furniture in and out.) After routine de-bugging and de-fragging, the computer room was at last declared open for business again. It had taken seven days of work. Gabriel brought chocolate chip cookies to thank everyone who had pitched in to do the labor. Now that the room is re-opened, it is almost as if it has always been this way. The floor is shiny, the chairs roll over it smoothly; no one misses the old ugly carpet. And the kitchen is quiet again. Sort of.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Learning Music at The Clearwater School


Singing, playing instruments and listening to and talking about music have been a big part of people's lives at Clearwater for many years. A changing group of girls have been members of a small choir for several years. A few students have become proficient at guitar or drums. A few poke around on the piano or take a few lessons.

Maddy and Jacy

This year, enough people are interested in learning to play guitar and drums that staff member and musician Matt Garrity has set aside two mornings a week for scheduled lessons. Four girls are learning to play the guitar and, in addition to their weekly lessons, spend time practicing on their own and learning to play guitar and sing at the same time.

Cass, Matt and Leo

Two teenage boys spend hours each week with each other, alone or with Matt on drums, playing electric guitar and bass. A couple of girls are writing original songs with music and lyrics, consulting with Matt. There have been some piano lessons this year, too.

 Guitar lesson with Matt

Some of the girls who are in the choir are also taking guitar and piano lessons. What they are learning about playing instruments adds  to their understanding of how music works and deepens their singing skills.

Aidan and Matt

It is rare for the music room to be empty for extended periods. Usually, someone is taking a lesson, practicing in a group or alone, or jamming.

Watch this video sample of some of the music making at Clearwater over the past several weeks. The video shows people not performing, but practicing--working to get better at playing an instrument, to create rhythm, melody and harmony, to compose a song which was later discarded, to play the same chord progression or improvise something new together, and to help each other increase their skills.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Growing into Literacy - Guest Post

It is often a challenge for parents who enroll their children at The Clearwater School or other Sudbury schools when their children choose not to learn to read until they are 9 or 10 years old or even older. With the permission of Abbe Vogels, a founder and staff member at Rising Tide School, our sister Sudbury school in Olympia, we are reprinting her blog post about how she handles her own fears around this issue. This post was originally published on her School It Yourself blog on October 2, 2011.
The photos in this post are of Clearwater students and were not part of Abbe's original blog post.

Growing into literacy

As the parent of self-educated children, I often come up against fears about their development. The core of the fear is: ”Maybe what I know in my heart to be true about learning is actually false, and the dominant educational paradigm is right. What if I’ve totally screwed up!” Pretty normal fear for anyone walking a new road, but scary just the same.

For me, and other Sudbury parents, it often comes up around reading. I fear that by supporting my kids to read when they’re ready, they’ll never learn, or they won’t read well. I’ve been very happy that I’ve stared down this fear so far, as I see tremendous benefit to my kids as they grow into literacy in their own time.

Before I had my own children, I worked as a paraeducator in a local school district. That’s when I first became aware that many people can’t read, or can’t read fluently, even when they’ve been schooled their whole lives, and even when they’re of an age where we’d expect reading ability (11, 12, 13 years, and even older). Because reading is the skill upon which all academic schools are based, reading difficulty prevents a person from participating in classroom activities, and was accordingly surrounded by a great deal of fear, worry, and extra work for the kids who weren’t comfortable readers.

The older these children were, the more that the fear surrounding their non-reading caused them deep shame. Their lack of reading skill became something to hide and deny. And the more they hid and denied, the less likely they were to be curious about reading, interested in learning how to do it better, or comfortable asking for help. To me, the situation often appeared hopeless–some students seemed more likely to drop out school than to brave the shame of learning to read at age 13 or older. Completely understandable, given the environment!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A painting from a bus rider

Last Monday as I opened up the bus for people to board, Johnna handed me this painting.

"I painted it for you," she said. I felt both happy and honored to receive such a gift. We spent some time looking at it together as she explained some of the choices she'd made in painting it. "The purple is really blue and red," she told me. "I had to paint over a few times." Yellow also shows underneath the large green patches too giving it a kind of glow. I did not ask what it was, but when we got back to her stop at the end of the day, I did ask her to add one detail at the bottom: her name.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Two New Chickens at Clearwater

There are now two new members of the Clearwater community. Poppy and Pebble are Silkie chickens, sponsored by the Chicken Committee: Lily, Jurr, Jackie, Max, Stevie, Tommie, Delayney, Vera, Tarka, Zoe, Gryffon, and Mikey.

 Poppy and Pebble

The story of Poppy and Pebble is a good example of how students can make things happen at Clearwater. Adults’ resistance to an idea is not an immoveable obstacle if there is vision, commitment, and follow-through from students. Early on, the chickens were not expected to be permanent residents at Clearwater. A number of staff and students were doubtful about how well it would work, remembering a previous chicken experiment. "The last time Clearwater had chickens, the staff had to take care of them because none of the students wanted to," says Lily. "So they were skeptical." Lily has chickens at her house, and another student had said he wished he could have pets at school. So, Lily said, why not chickens at school again? But how to persuade the school?

 Lily (with Pebble), Gryffon and Brandon (with Poppy)

"We went to school meeting and had a discussion, but everyone said they didn't think it was a good idea. They said we'd have to raise money for the chickens ourselves, and then keep the chickens away from school over the summer." But that was something students were willing to do. "We raised them at homes across the street from the school at first. They were very cute. We named them Poppy and Kiwi." After Kiwi unfortunately met a cat, Poppy was very sad -- young chickens can actually die of loneliness, Lily says -- so Pebble was acquired by the chicken committee. "Once they got old enough to go outside, we asked permission again to keep them at school."

The committee made their case to the interim Summer School Meeting. "The chickens were cute enough to persuade them to say yes," says Jurr. But students had all responsibility for care of the chickens; it wasn't staff's job. Lily, Max, Stevie, Jurr, and Jackie cleaned their coop, gave them food and water, held them, and free-ranged them during the whole summer. What does it mean to free-range a chicken? "You put them out in the grass to walk around by themselves, eating and scratching and taking dirt baths," Jackie and Jurr explain. "We have to watch them to make sure they don't run away, or get killed by a predator like a hawk or a cat." (Lily clarifies though that once chickens get old enough, most cats don't mind them).

 Gryffon, Poppy and Nikos

Once summer was over, the committee still needed School Meeting's permission to permanently keep them at school. "We asked again, and by this time they thought we were responsible enough to look after the chickens; it wasn't hard to get it approved," says Jurr. But another obstacle arose when the committee had to consider the requirements of the Health Department regarding livestock at schools. Poppy and Pebble had to wait another two months before the committee had made the proper arrangements and School meeting approved the plan.

The agreement is that the chickens can be housed at the school; the chicken committee is responsible for buying their food, taking them to the vet, making sure they are safe in their coop, watching them when they are out. But most of all, Jackie adds, "we like to hold them." Anyone may hold the chickens if they like, supervised by a member of the Chicken Committee. "They are cuddly and nice, and they don't mind you holding them. They’ll even fall asleep sometimes in your hands. If you move them gently, they will ruffle their feathers or move their tails. Poppy has some wicked tail moves," Jurr says. "And Pebble is adorable."

 Lily, Arlo (with Pebble), Gryffon and Nikos (with Poppy)

While holding the chickens it is recommended that you wear gloves, and after holding them, it's important to wash your hands with soap. This is because it's possible (though unlikely, Jackie adds) to catch salmonella from a chicken. This was the most serious issue the chicken committee had to face when addressing requirements from the State Health Department. Stevie explained that the chickens also have to remain in an enclosed area even when they are not in their coop, and that staff supervises while the coop is cleaned.

As a breed, Silkie chickens are small, with puffy feathers. They are recommended for kids because they are usually nice and calm. Poppy (white) is a hen and after a period of guessing we are now sure that Pebble (black) is a rooster.