Dancing 'Round Castles

Associated School: 
  • 25 June 2011

I'll begin with a little background about my children coming to The Circle School. Last year I came to the school as a new staff person. Zeb and Jyles, my stepchildren, were soon to follow, enrolling last year. My own three children have gone through an arduous campaign with their birth father to do the same. There was jubilation in our household late in the summer when he finally agreed to allow them to come.

By all measurable standards, the children are all bright successful students. They were in the gifted program, received excellent grades, had friends, and participated in various extra-curricular activities. However, despite these classical standards of success and enrichment, the children were neither happy nor satisfied with school. Instead, they constantly felt bored, unchallenged, and frustrated. There were many behavioral manifestations of these feelings. The most obvious one was a constant resistance to going to school each day - usually under the guise of being sick. Less direct, but equally disturbing, were the furrows in their brows while discussing their boredom in class. They felt isolated because they were smart, or different, or did not choose to get in trouble or shave their legs.

School has only been in session three weeks and already I have observed heartening behaviors in my children. During Tiffany's time in public school her teachers always observed how bright she was, but commented on how timid and quiet she was. Here, she is a far cry from timid - she is full of laughter and enthusiasm. She volunteers her ideas and helps make things happen. She is comfortable stating and defending her position on issues. She is not ostracized for her decision not to shave her legs or not to have her physical appearance be her primary concern. She is accepted for who she is and is able to rejoice in that. Last weekend, while walking through a crowd of people with her, I saw her retreat into her shell (arms behind her back, head down, hair in front of her face ... ) and I recalled how this used to be her public standard. Now I see a girl who tosses back her long red hair and greets the world with a smile and a hug.

Teachers have always commented on Jamie's intelligence, creativity, and leadership skills. However, no one really knew what to do for her besides to use her as a glorified teacher's aid. She is so adept at over-performing to predetermined standards that we have had to contend continuously with the stress of her perfectionist tendencies.

At the first school meeting she volunteered for various clerkships and was elected chairperson of the school meeting, a position which bears many responsibilities. She then presided over the rest of the five and-a-half-hour meeting, which took two days to complete. When I arrived at the end of the second day to pick her up, she danced up to me clad only in her ballet leotard. She told me that when the meeting had adjourned she had built a castle on the bear blocks and spent a few hours dancing around it. I recalled my preschool girl, now tripled in size, who was equally in tune with her modes of release and comfortable with her self-expression. As she danced up to me, I saw that she is in a place where she is able to take care of her business and take care of herself. This is an essential balance to learn in life.

Then there is Connor. He has come to school each morning full of joy, trying to maximize his time spent here. He wanted to make a motion at the School Meeting to extend the school day, feeling that nine hours just was not enough.

Last weekend I started feeling that although I thrilled to see all the happiness, I would still like to see him doing a little more reading. I put together a reading incentive program in which he happily participated. While he was engrossed in his fifth book, Saint George's Dragon, I told him I would help him with any difficult words. He remained silently engrossed for a long time. I was feeling somewhat surprised because I knew the difficult level of vocabulary in this book. Finally I pointed out a word, asking him what it was. He glanced up and replied, "thoroughly", with a quizzical expression, as if to say "Didn't you know that, Mommy?". Again I was struck with the inner wisdom of the child. Reading just is not an issue for Connor. He likes it. He is awfully good at it. He will do it when it suits him, just as he will continue to spend his time taking care of the things that motivate him.

During my children's public school years it was almost as if I had a part-time job trying to help fix the problems with their educational program. I was luckier than most parents, to be able to assert my voice because of my children's gifted classification. Yet I really remained impotent - always feeling as if I was fighting invisible dragons. Such an implicitly flawed monolith cannot be fixed by one energetic mom. As time passed, I watched their hope that school would be a place that would feed their hunger for knowledge and experience fade to an unhappy frustration.

In these few weeks of school at The Circle School I have watched my bright children regain a bright attitude toward school as a welcome part of their lives. Sunday morning was a perfect example of this. As soon as Connor awoke, he came and cuddled us in bed and sighed a happy little sigh about it finally being a school morning. When I told him that it actually was Sunday he moaned, "Oh, a whole long day to go before I can go back to school."

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Hudson Valley Sudbury School

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Kingston, NY 12401
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