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."
Emma took a salsa dance class at Clearwater with her friend, Mikey
Because of her test-taking anxiety, she did some research to find out if there were ways to go to college without taking the SAT. She met with a friend who has college admissions experience and discovered she didn't need high school grades or SAT scores to go to community college. "In the beginning of this research, I was trying to find ways to get out of doing tests, but now it makes sense to me to go to community college and transfer to another college. I am a little worried about tests in college, but I will deal with it."
In addition to reviewing her higher education options, Emma contemplated what she wanted to do. "We went to Paris last summer. It was amazing, but I wanted to get out of the tourist areas and see what it's like with no tourists. Travel is really important to me. I want my whole life to be travel." She smiles, "And sometimes I want to have a house and a dog, so who knows."
"I watch a lot of TED talks every night before I go to bed." One night she watched "Photos that bear witness to modern slavery" by Lisa Kristine, cofounder of Free the Slaves. "It was shocking, the things that are going on. It was inspiring and made me want to do something. I want to be the person who travels and brings attention to something." She's playing with the idea of being a photographer or journalist.
"I also like brain/neuroscience, research-based study. Reading anything used to be the biggest chore. Now, it's all I want to do. That's what started me on neuroscience. One day I was at a bookstore, wondering who reads all those books. I forced myself to pick up a book in the science section and grabbed a bright yellow book without even looking at the cover." The book was Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman. Emma was hooked.
Emma reading - a common sight at Clearwater
Her New Year's resolution this year was to read one book each week, which she continues to keep. She especially loves reading nonfiction. One book she highly recommends is Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, by Sebastian Seung. In a radical departure, she recently started reading George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire. It was a bit of a leap for her to read fiction, because she's always thought reading things that are true is better somehow. As it happens, she loves Game of Thrones. She continues to read one non-fiction book a week, in addition to fiction.
Emma plans to get her Clearwater diploma, so she's working on her diploma presentation this year. She has a journal in which she's recorded important life events and which she's using now to write down things she wants to talk and write about for her diploma presentation. She worked as a nanny for a while, and now works for her dad, writing the blog posts on his wedding planning site.
"At Clearwater, people have been really amazing. I'm not the most social person, but I like to see how people work, how friendships develop." People of different ages seek Emma out; she is easy to be with and talk to. "I don't think of the age difference between Zoe (9 years old) and me. I've taught a reading class at Clearwater with four people [ages 9-11], when they asked me. We used materials one of the students brought in."
When asked what makes her happy, she said, "getting a job and a car in 2011, and reading. Reading is the most valuable thing I could ever do with my time."