Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What If Kids Could Swear at School?

by David Linder, Clearwater parent

Warning, the following post includes language some people don't like--and stories of kids using such language.

One rainy day on our way out the door, I heard my 10-year-old yell, "Shit!" from outside. I quickly went to look what happened. Turns out he had been balancing two boxes of Yu-Gi-Oh cards on top of a binder. It was raining and the boxes slipped and fell to the ground.

Seeing they were in metal tins I knew the cards were fine. I reminded him the rain wouldn't affect them and offered him a bag to carry them in. I know how I was supposed to react: a minor using bad words needs to be disciplined, right? What I actually thought at the time was, "Neat. He knows how to swear correctly."

I love the question of "What if kids could swear at school," because it’s so shocking to adults. Don’t you need to teach children appropriate language? How will they know not to shout curses at work later? 

Adults that object miss the point--it’s not that I want my kids to swear. I have the same goals as any parent: that my kids will function as sensitive, compassionate, and productive people in society--as good citizens.

By having the freedom to swear at school, students have to learn how to wield language.* Words are just words, but some words are sharper than others.  They can hurt; they can incite. What better way to practice restraint than to learn what the true impact of words is?

Banned words are taboo fun. As long as nobody finds out, it’s a thrill to use them because you aren’t supposed to. Remove the ban and you remove the thrill. Now you have to deal with the meaning and intention of the word.

Swear words can also heal. Dropped the Thanksgiving turkey on the floor on the way to the table? The first thing most of us do is exclaim--loudly. That swear is a self-rebuke, a wish, and a regret. Researchers have found that swearing can reduce physical pain. My wish is that my children understand the use and impact of all their language.

*School Meeting,The Clearwater School's governing body composed of all students and staff, has repeatedly upheld the right of free speech, but also expects responsible use of emotionally-charged words. People who choose to swear at school must be certain that no one in the vicinity finds their language offensive or hurtful, and have to deal with the consequences of using language irresponsibly.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What If Kids Didn't Have to Wear Shoes at School? -- A Barefoot Mom's Point of View

by Susan Milton, Clearwater parent
Barefoot Zoe with Jackie and Johnna

One thing that makes me feel happy every time I arrive at The Clearwater School is that I don't have to put on shoes to go and find my kids, and that I often see at least one or two barefoot kids right away as I walk through the parking lot. 
Maddy's walking feet

Shoes are required at most schools, because many people believe that bad things would happen if students didn't wear them.

  • They could  be injured by broken glass or other sharp items.
  • Germs could spread.
  • People would sue each other.
  • It must be a violation of health codes.
  • Kids who are allowed to go barefoot at school won't be successful in the real world, where shoes are required.
  • Bare feet are a distraction in class.
  • Bare feet are indecent.
  • Chaos would break out without a rule requiring shoes.
I didn't make any of these up, and have heard or read all of them.

Jacy in the office

On the other hand, there is a small but growing number of people, myself included, who are convinced that none of these fears are based on reality, and instead believe that going barefoot as much as possible is actually much healthier and safer than wearing shoes. If you are interested in learning more, this website is a great place to start. And here's one specifically for parents which mentions Sudbury schools.

Reading the information about the many joys and benefits of bare feet, I would be tempted to think that if kids weren't required to wear shoes at school, none of them would. And they would all grow up happier, healthier, stronger, and safer as a result. Pretty soon the whole world would be better place.


Since shoes are not required at Clearwater, I have had the chance to find out what actually happens if kids don't have to wear shoes at school. The truth is that nothing very dramatic happens at all. In fact, most of the people choose to wear shoes most of time. I guess they want to keep their feet warm or to avoid stepping on sharp things. But I always see a few barefoot kids indoors and out, and if you see a barefoot mom walking around Clearwater, that's probably me.

Sometimes people are mildly curious, but mostly no one really cares. I've never witnessed or heard about anyone with a foot injury at Clearwater, but if someone did hurt their foot, I imagine that they would sit down for while and put a bandage or ice pack on it, just like with a scraped knee or hurt finger.

Lily rehearsing barefoot

I am always impressed by how fair and sensible the rules are at this school where kids vote on the rules. There are many rules at Clearwater, but the rules are almost never based on knee-jerk reactions to things or fear about extremely unlikely occurrences. The fact that there is no rule against bare feet is a great example of that.

The best thing about all of this, in my opinion, is that individuals are accepted and respected whether they are choosing to wear shoes at the moment or not.  And we all get to see that just because something is a little bit unusual doesn't mean that it's a problem.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Clearwater Mounts Its First Full-Length Play

Scene from an early rehearsal

For the first time in The Clearwater School's 17-year history, a group of Clearwater students is producing and offering public performances of a full-length play. You are cordially invited to attend a performance, scheduled between Thursday, May 30 and Sunday, June 2.

 Screenwriter (Jesse) and supporting actress (Lily) interact while the cinematographer (Gregory) sets up the shot

The play is Attack of the Killer Murder...of Death, by Wayne Rawley, a local playwright, whose work has been produced at the Empty Space Theatre and Seattle Public Theatre, among others. To date over 20 of Rawley's plays have been produced in Seattle, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.

Supporting actress (Lily) and movie star (Benji)

There will be three evening performances at 7:00 PM and two matinees at 2:00 PM Saturday, June 1 and 11:00 AM, Sunday, June 2. The Thursday, Friday and Saturday matinee performances are already sold out, but seats are still available for the 7:00 PM Saturday and 11:00 AM Sunday performances. Running time is one and a half hours, plus intermission.

 The actors listen to the director (Matt)

Tickets are available for a suggested donation of $10 per person. There is one intermission, when audience members can purchase homemade baked goods and beverages. Reserve your seats today by calling The Clearwater School at (425) 489-2050 or sending an email request.

 Play producer and assistant director (Gabriel) and director (Matt)

In preparation for this production, students involved in the production founded the TCS Acting Society, which has worked for the past several weeks to  renovate an unused storage area at school into a performance space. They cleared out the rooms, repainted and added lighting and curtains.

 Cop (Aidan), producer (Maddy) and crew member (Tommie)

Rehearsals started March 18, and two weeks ago, actors began rehearsing off book. Actors and the technical crew are working on costumes and props.

 Crew member (Tommie) and costumer (Mara)

During the past three years, several of the people involved in this performance took acting classes at school with Clearwater parent, Pearl Klein, and developed three improv performances. Three of the actors have performed scenes at Clearwater events. Four members of the cast have acted in public performances at local theatres, but no one else has ever been in a full-length play before.
 Cast minus one

Crew and cast for this performance are:

Gabriel Klein, producer, assistant director and actor
Matt Garrity, director and staff member
Meghan Conken, stage manager
Mat Riggle, technical director and staff member

Actors (in order of appearance): 
Lily Garrity
Leo Campbell-Klein
Jacy Rain Scott-Laakso
Benji Janapol
Mara Campbell-Klein
Gabriel Klein
Jesse Linder
Tommie Sterling
Gregory Brewer
Aidan Linder
Maddy Linder

Friday, May 3, 2013

Whistlepig! This Weekend! Be There!!

It's time again for Whistlepig, The Clearwater School's fundraising festival of music, food and games. And this weekend...there WILL be sun and heat!

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo or the fact that it's a gorgeous day and join us on Sunday, May 5, 1:00-5:00 pm. There will be wonderful performances by students and staff, homemade carnival games, great food and the most delicious baked good you can imagine. We suggest a donation of $10.

We are grateful to our food sponsor, Von Trapp's, one of Seattle's hottest new restaurants. They donated their house-made bratwurst and frankfurter sausages for your eating pleasure. In addition, there will be delicious side dishes, salad and drinks to round out a meal.

We also thank Clearwater parent, Elrond Sheppard, for creating this year's lovely Whistlepig design, now available on a variety of apparel and gifts in Clearwater's Cafe Press shop.

Expert bakers in the Clearwater community will supply a plethora of luscious pastries and other goodies for dessert. Plus, three students will mix delicious mocktails on demand.

There will be lots of opportunities to watch and participate in music throughout the day, too. 

Music and performance schedule
1:30-3:00 pm Open Jam (bring instruments and enthusiasm)
3:00-3:15 pm Recitation and original story reading
3:15-4:00 pm Music performances by Clearwater students and staff
4:00-5:00 pm Karaoke (sing your heart out!)

This year, there will also be several great carnival games, made by Clearwater students and staff. Try your hand at skee ball, a nerf shooting gallery, 5-hole mini golf,a  pachinko-style game, football toss and spin the wheel. Have fun and win prizes!

Get your face or arm painted by an extraordinary artist, relax with a short massage or energy work, and make your own button.

Whistlepig is perfect for the whole family. Bring your friends and enjoy a fun and beautiful day!

Monday, April 29, 2013

What if there were no grades in school?

At The Clearwater School, children are trusted with the freedom and responsibility to direct their own education. Without grades, groupings by age or mandatory tests, children engage wholeheartedly in their passions, and find their own standards of success. Students spend years setting and achieving their personal goals, becoming resourceful, self-confident and skilled adults with a commitment to their own success.

Post by David Linder, Clearwater parent

Imagine at the end of every day at work, your employer handed you a card with a list of everything you’d done wrong and everything you’d (in their eyes) done right. 

Every PowerPoint presentation greeted with a thumbs up or thumbs down. All your email corrected for perfect grammar and sent back to you.

In a very short time, you’d learn exactly what your employer wanted and what they didn’t want.  After a while, you might even be the perfect employee, knowing exactly how to please them. 

And then you change jobs. Or get a promotion. Or quit to start your own business. And all of a sudden, you have no idea what’s right – there are different people to please, different rules to follow. You find it impossible to improvise, to be flexible, to be creative. Without the immediate feedback, you’re stuck.

This is the environment we often put children in. We evaluate their homework, their tests, their attendance, their attentiveness--even their effort. 

Grades teach kids how to react to someone else’s judgment. In a typical school, we grade kids for almost 20 years.  Then we send them out in the world and complain that they don’t know what they are doing, that they aren’t independent enough.

David is the dad of three Clearwater students and co-owner of Sublime Media in Seattle. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Clearwater Students Star in Professional Music Video

by Shawna Lee
photos by Matt Garrity

In January, Clearwater staff member Matt Garrity, also a musician and 17th Chapter front man, heard from friend and music producer, Christian Hansen, that he needed two young people  to perform in a professional music video for the London-based duo, Still Corners. Matt offered to find a boy and girl from The Clearwater School to be in the video. He asked Lily and Arlo, both 13 years old, who enthusiastically agreed. Matt took some photos of Arlo and Lily and sent them to the director who approved them for the project. The shoot was two days later on a school day.

 Lily with her fancy skates

Matt drove Arlo and Lily to the set (Skate King in Bellevue), where Christian Hansen, producer, director and camera man, introduced himself and the two members of Still Corners, songwriter Greg Hughes and vocalist Tessa Murray. Lily said, "When we went there, we didn't know whether we'd get a big part or a little part. We thought we might just be background. It was a huge surprise when I found out I was the star of the video."

Christian took Lily and Arlo over to the costumer who had them try on a variety of clothes. Arlo tried on a pair of pants and a few sweaters, before he was ready. Lily reported, "we brought a bag of clothes, but the costumer only had me use one thing of my own--my socks. I tried on a few things he brought that were so uncomfortable that I said I didn't want to wear them. It took about an hour to find something that worked. The clothes they put on Arlo looked better than the clothes he usually wears."

Lily and the costumer putting together her video wardrobe

Monday, April 1, 2013

Trust, Spirituality & Raising Kids - Public Conversation

The Clearwater School presents a free public presentation and discussion, "The Practice of Parenting: Trust, Spirituality and Raising Kids."

The presentation will be Saturday, April 13, 2013, 6-8pm, at Two Dog Yoga, 12549 28th Ave NE, Seattle, in the Lake City neighborhood.

In practices ranging from Christianity to Qigong, we work to stay present, are challenged to let go, strive to be compassionate. Trust plays a key role as we open to the situations our lives bring. By taking trust into the parenting relationship, we allow our kids the opportunity to know themselves deeply--thus engaging in their own spiritual journey.

This lively presentation and discussion features Martha Hurwitz (qigong instructor and Clearwater parent), Stephanie Sarantos (developmental psychologist and Clearwater staff member), and Benji Janapol (musician, poet and Clearwater student).

Join us and invite your friends, neighbors and coworkers to this fascinating conversation. For more information, email or call (425-489-2050) The Clearwater School.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Clearwater Profiles - Emma

by Shawna Lee, Clearwater staff member

Eighteen-year-old Emma is relatively new to The Clearwater School; she has attended since January 2012. Before that, she attended Woodinville High School. One day, in Emma's English class, her teacher talked about different educational philosophies, including Clearwater's Sudbury philosophy. [Her public school teacher was Christine Traxler, whose 9-year-old daughter has been a Clearwater student since she was three years old. Christine recently gave a presentation at a Clearwater public forum about why she chose Clearwater.]

Until Emma was 12 years old, she wanted to be a veterinarian. "One day when I was 13, I thought, 'who helps the people who help the animals?'" She decided she wanted to be a medical doctor. "Until a year ago, it was a big dream of mine. [My parents and I] looked at medical schools."

To achieve her career goals, Emma planned to attend an Ivy League college, but in public school "getting a 4.0 [GPA] was not happening." She believed she wouldn't be able to be a doctor because everyone told her she needed straight A's. "I forced myself not to want becoming a doctor. I know now that I could become a doctor, but I don't want a doctor's lifestyle."

When Emma first enrolled at Clearwater, she studied SAT test prep materials for two hours every day to improve her SAT score and prove to her parents that she would put her freedom and unscheduled time to good use. "I took the SAT once and didn't do well. I didn't study for it and didn't care. I've never been able to take a test well, because of nerves and worry. It's something I'll have to face."

Monday, March 11, 2013

Build it and they will come!

by Matt Garrity, staff member

Gregory demonstrates how to build a really tall tower during Clearwater's Play Group program. The part time program is designed for younger students and is a great introduction into the school environment.

Family Information Nights at Clearwater

If you're curious--or know people who are curious--about how Clearwater students learn anything and become confident, capable and skilled adults when they are free to decide how to spend their time at school, Family Information Nights are for you.

The Clearwater School has scheduled two Family Information Nights this spring.
  • The first is this week: Wednesday, March 13, 2013, 6:00-8:00 PM.
  • The second is Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 6:00-8:00 PM.
Both Information Nights are at our campus: 1510 196th St SE, Bothell WA 98012.

Family Information Nights are free and open to the public. They are wonderful opportunities to get a basic grounding in Clearwater's educational philosophy and practice. In addition, students, staff and parents will be available to answer questions, and to talk about why they chose The Clearwater School and how it has affected their perspectives on learning and their family relationships.

Parents, children, educators, and the curious are welcome. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, call 425-489-2050 or email.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What It’s Like To Be the Parent of a Kid Who Doesn’t Bring Home Report Cards

by Karen Hyams, Clearwater parent
[photos taken at The Clearwater School]

I’m the mom of a 17-year-old who has only taken two tests since first grade. When, at 15, he took a test to see if he could take freshman English at Cascadia College, I was as curious to see the results as he was; we had no past test-taking experience to compare. He might have done well, he might have done poorly--nothing would have surprised me. When he did well, it further bolstered my belief that you don’t need to spend years “practicing” test-taking.

From the Apgar score on, kids in our society are measured, compared, percentiled, assessed, and sorted so much that we parents seem to have become addicted to a constant stream of data. When my family decided to stop getting that information, to change to a school that didn’t test, the decision was easy, but living with it later wasn’t so simple.

Leaving testing and homework behind had an immediate impact on everyone in our family. Free from constant comparisons to friends in class, my child was able to be himself and not contend with any hierarchy in the classroom. He got goofier and much, much happier. A “no testing” culture meant no running through tedious exercises designed for the test, no sorting by ability to read, no fights about homework.

All of that was good for us, and there are too many other good things to list. What I didn’t expect was to panic a little without that steady stream of mostly meaningless information. I wondered, is he learning to read? How is he doing socially? His days were unreported, his highs and lows private. The only way I was going to find out how things were going was to talk to him.

I wish I could tell you that talking to him made me feel better, but it did not. He didn’t tell me any of the things I was hoping to hear, and I didn’t hear the meaning of all of the wonderful things he did tell me. It took a lot of practice for me to stop looking for those things we’ve decided kids need to know, and to see the things that had room to grow once they had the space. Once I really learned to see my child outside the context of measured education, I was able to hear his stories and see the growth they represented.
Ten years later I still talk to my son to see how things are going, but I don’t do it out of worry anymore. Even though he is of the age to start seriously thinking about college, I’m not concerned with his lack of a transcript—I’ve seen plenty of kids like him get into school and thrive, and then thrive after school as well. And if he decides not to go to college when he graduates, we’ll all be OK. I’ve learned to trust his instincts; I learned that by listening. A report card wouldn’t tell me half as much as he does. And I’m talking about a 17-year-old boy, one who isn’t very forthcoming. He’s the expert on himself; he’s the one who knows how he’s doing. Why would I trust a standard list of grades more than I trust him?

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Fault In Our Stars

by Bryan

A couple of weeks ago I looked over Aidan's shoulder while he was reading The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. He read it in about three days, I think. Not long after that his sister Maddy was reading it, and Aidan had moved on to another book by the same author. And then a third. Always curious, I leafed through one of them, looking as I always do for some indication about whether the book was worth my time. I admit, I am hard to impress (others might say, a snob), and often when I do this with books, a tell-tale cliché will send me away shaking my head. But this time -- I kept reading, until Aidan noticed me looking in the middle of the book and said something like, Careful, if you read too far you'll spoil the plot. About a week later I asked them both, So which book by this John Green guy should I read first? The Fault In Our Stars, they said together. The next Monday, Aidan put it into my hand.

I'm not going to ruin the plot, but it's fair to tell you that this is a book about sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds living (or not) with cancer. When a book starts out with a teenage cancer support group, you know it's going to be a hard slog. By the first night I was a third of the way in, and had to force myself to go to bed. The second day, I exclaimed, "Reading this book is like watching Jaws! Something bad is going to happen." They just looked at me and smiled -- a little sadly, I thought -- but said not a word. No spoilers from them. 

Well, not from me either. But I can recommend this book in terms of its art: the relationships Green draws, among the teens, and between them and adults, all ring true (though they don't all come off well). In the starkest of terms, here's the set-up: Hazel, Isaac, and Augustus meet at the support group, and feel their way forward into a friendships complicated by the fact that each of them is -- so far, anyway -- a cancer survivor.  Hazel and Augustus bond over a the experience of reading an experimental novel, a novel that ends with the apparent death of the main character from cancer, leaving a number of plot threads hanging. They hatch a plot to have a private audience with the author, by a reclusive ex-patriot now living in Amsterdam, in which he'll tie up the loose ends. 

The Fault In Our Stars is a story is about coming to terms with loose ends; about getting used to the idea that life will disappoint you; about being grateful anyway; about the way a book can matter to you, even in someways more than a person; about how we deal with the ultimate spoiler of the story of our lives, the one we all live under, the only part we all know ahead of time: each one of us is going to die. 

And how to live in the meantime? What standards do we use to evaluate our lives? This is where the book intersects most obviously with Clearwater. I don't want to wrest The Fault In Our Stars into a commercial for Sudbury education, but this theme resonates strongly with what I observe at the school: students are given the room to find for themselves the criteria they will judge themselves. The usual criteria in our society has to do with accomplishment, with how much we do, and this tends to crowd out other considerations. One character says it very well:
The real heroes anyway aren't the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.
There is a lot of noticing that goes on in this book -- one poignant scene rings the changes on William Carlos Williams' famous poem about the red wheelbarrow, saying over and over how "So much depends upon" one usually-neglected detail after another. There are a many, many beautiful lines. It is funny, and sad, and extremely thought-provoking, without once pointing out to you how thought-provoking it is. I'm grateful to it not just for making more reflective about my own life, but for the conversations it's sparked with students. I know I shouldn't be that surprised -- it's a New York Times best seller, after all -- but it caught me off-guard when, as I got on the bus last Friday, Kallisti looked at the book in my hand and exclaimed, "The Fault In Our Stars! That's such a good book!" 

 At some point about halfway through, I texted Maddy: "It's weird. I care about these people who are only marks on paper, and I want them to be happy." 

She texted back: "That's exactly how I felt."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Reluctant to Enthusiastic: A Clearwater Parents' Forum

You are invited to attend this upcoming event. Please invite friends, neighbors and coworkers to attend.

Parents who enroll their children at the Clearwater School in Bothell grapple with thorny issues by choosing a democratic school. Providing their children with the freedom to be responsible for their own learning can be a daunting endeavor. Parents will discuss issues such as unlimited gaming, learning the fundamentals, how their kids are doing at Clearwater vs. traditional school, and how they themselves handle their difficulties with giving young people control of their lives.

In a radical ...departure from traditional schooling, Clearwater considers students responsible for their own education. Students choose what they want to do, when they want to do it and with whom and in ways that ...serve them best.

Given the freedom to pursue their passions and the infrastructure to take responsibility for their lives, Clearwater students become confident, articulate adults with the skills they need to succeed. They graduate, get jobs, attend college, all without GPAs, transcripts or other stamps of approval that more traditional schools require.

Presentation is FREE and open to the public. Parents, students, community members, educators and journalists are welcome.

At Lake City Branch, Seattle Public Library
12501 28th Ave. N.E.
Seattle, WA 98125

Monday, February 11, 2013

Clearwater Students Work for Salmon

by Bryan Carr

Clearwater's Salmon Restoration Marathon is underway!

Clearwater staff and students are working hard on a marathon of weeding, grounds-clearing, and landscape restoration.

 Gabriel and Leo weeding and mulching

Every day we go out armed with clippers and shovels (and protected by gloves!) to the big field behind the school, to pull and flatten grasses around saplings so that mulch can be piled up, or to pull out invasive scotch broom, blackberry, and thistle.

Bryan, Jacy & Meghan chopping blackberry for composting
Jesse, Stephen and Rain digging out Scotch Broom
There is a lot of work to do, but we've already made a big dent. A number of trees that were planted last year have been rescued from being covered by the surrounding grasses.

Liberated Shore Pine bent over from weight of tall dead grass
Thad weeding

This effort is part of Clearwater's ongoing partnership with Snohomish County in an ecological restoration of the North Creek for salmon and other wildlife. The native trees and shrubs will provide wildlife habitat, and their root systems will prevent erosion and sendiment in the creek bed, so that salmon habitat is preserved.

Samadhi and Leo weeding and mulching

 Matt and Johnna weeding and mulching
It is also a fund-raiser: using a similar concept to a walk-a-thon, but substituting hours worked instead of miles walked, we are asking for sponsors of students' work as they yank weeds, haul heavy wheelbarrows, and shovel mulch. (Every contribution is tax-deductible!)

Jackie and Tarka pull weeds and mulch
JR and Max dig out thistles
If you know a Clearwater student, ask them about sponsoring them. And if you don't, you can always contribute via PayPal on Clearwater's home page.