From the Mouths of Babes

me and dillon

Well it’s the first week of year number 4 and everything went off beautifully (I cannot believe it has been 4 years since God led me to open this school)! We added a preschool room this year, so we can now give children as young as two FREEDOM! We have a larger community, and have even added a health room! We are so excited about the ways The Living Water School continues to grow and develop. One evening this week as my children and I left the school (we are usually the last ones to leave at the end of the school day), my oldest son (he’s 8 years old) asked me the most interesting question. This was the discussion we had:

Michael (my son): Mom, is Susie coming back this year?

Me: No, she’s not coming back.

Daisy (my 4 year old daughter…Susie is her best friend): NO!!!!! I Love Susie!

Michael: But why?

Me: (pausing for a moment to think of the best answer to give)

Michael: Mom?

Me: Well, her parents decided to enroll her in a new school.

Michael (eyes get big, his mouth falls open in shock): WHAT?! But why???

Me: (again I pause…I actually really like this family so wanted to keep it positive)

Michael: I just don’t understand! Why would anyone want to put their child in another school?

Me: Well, some parents struggle a little with all the freedom we give the students.

Michael (again looks totally shocked): What?! What’s wrong with our freedom!? Why wouldn’t they want us to have freedom!?

Me: Well some families feel more comfortable when their child has a more traditional learning experience.

Michael: Like what do you mean?

Me: Well, they want to be sure their child is getting all of the education they need, so they feel safer if their child is behind a desk for a good part of a day, following a set schedule, listening to a teacher give the education, homework, tests…all those things help parents feel sure that their child is getting all of their education.

Michael: But I don’t understand! Why wouldn’t they want their child to be free to run around, play in the pond, play with friends and just be free!?

(At this point another teacher gets in the car so we can give him a ride home, and Michael continues his rant. I get out of the car to make sure the school doors are locked, but my son is continuing to fuss about the topic. I then get back in the car…)

Other Teacher: Did you hear what he just said????

Me: No, what did he say?

Other Teacher: He said, “So the parents just want their kids to be enslaved!?”

Me: He said that???

Other Teacher: (laughing) Yes he did!

Me: Whoa…um Michael….um….(I’m trying to find words to “fix” what my son has said so it is more positive.)

Other Teacher: (still laughing) Uh, wisdom has spoken.

(We both turn around to look at Michael in amazement and he looks at us in all of his innocence.)

This particular family was a wonderful family who really saw how the school was benefiting their child, but family members and outside influences persuaded them to try a traditional school. I do not want others to think that the staff of Living Water would judge any parent in this way. Children see things so black and white sometimes. It takes a lot of courage, faith and trust to set children free. Even though I founded the school, I still daily wrestle with my own worries in giving my children the freedom to chart their course in life. But I see what is happening to them. It’s a really subtle and sometimes slow process. It reminds me of when we plant a seed and slowly watch it grow into a plant. We water it, care for it, nurture it, protect it as much as we can without hindering it or imposing ourselves on it, and then one day it’s a beautiful plant! I see this happening with my own children and I see it happening with the students of the school. I am so thankful for those parents who have the courage to join me this 4th year in trusting the process and I am looking forward to another year enjoying the adventure of watching our kids learn and grown in FREEDOM.

Our School Supply Letter

aint got a pencilEach year we do a communal school supply list.  Here is the letter parents receive to explain how it works.  This poem is also attached to the letter. We do this because in my many years of education, students not having their supplies at school has been a major source of anxiety for kids. We don’t know why some kids don’t have a pencil or their paper, etc. Some don’t have it because the parent can’t afford it. Some don’t have it because they are still kids and just forgot!  Being fussed at because a child does not have a pencil contributes to the stress of a school day.  A child could have so many other worries to think about. Our school seeks to be a place where we try to alleviate as much stress and worry from the child as possible, so that they can just be about the business of ENJOYING SCHOOL, learning, growing, exploring, and being at peace. Here is a copy of our school supply letter:

Good Morning Everyone!

One of the greatest distractions in school is kids running out of their supplies.  We really want them to be able to focus on their school experience, so instead of having an individual supply list, we ask that parents purchase supplies that can be shared with the school community.  We take these supplies and store them in the resource room and give them out as kids need them.  We found that by doing this everyone always had what they needed, and the school saved a great deal of money on supplies last year.  Here is a list of items we would like families to purchase for the school:
*THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE ALWAYS NEED IS COPY PAPER!!!
1. pocket folders
2. college rule notebook paper
3. wide ruled notebook paper
4. dry erase markers
5. pens (blue and black ink)
6. pencils
7. stick glue
8. construction paper
9. drawing paper/drawing pads
10. manila folders
11. Let me say it again…copy paper (lots of copy paper!)
12. disinfectant wipes
13. hand sanitizer
14. spiral notebooks
15. composition notebooks
16. crayons
17. non-toxic markers
18. color pencils
19. paper clips
20. scissors
21. facial tissues
22. rulers
23. 3 ring binders
24. index cards
25. notebook dividers
26.  Hanging file/crate
27. Hanging file folders
28. sticky tacky puddy (for hanging things on the wall)
29. permanent markers
30.  staplers
31. staples
32. masking tape
33. combination locks
34. any arts and crafts supplies
35.  staples gift cards (especially to buy the printer ink)
36.  calculators
37. golf pencils
38.  clear scotch tape
39.  decorative stickers (kids love getting rewarded with a sticker)
40. plastic pencil cases/box for holding pencils, pens and other small supplies
*or anything other items you feel would be useful to the school community

Our desire is for the school to be a place where kids do not fear because they ran out of supplies, but they can go to any staff member and get what they need without being penalized.  Attached is a poem that I love and expresses some of the anxiety kids go through in a school day. I know that many of our students come from families that are able to provide everything they need, but sometimes every kid comes to school without the supplies they need. We also do have families that need this communal support (several students are on financial need scholarship).  The goal is that we want school to be a place where each and every child EQUALLY feels that their needs for the day can be met and they are not spotlighted when for any reason they don’t have the supplies they need. Please feel free to send your child to school with their personal supplies (I know how much some kids like to just have their own stuff), but I pray that every family will contribute to this communal school supply list. If each person gives a small amount of each item on this list, then we will be well stocked for the year.  Blessings to all of you!

Graduation 2018

jaleel gradWe had our second graduation since we opened in 2015!  Our one and only graduate was given the freedom to design his ceremony, even down to what he wore.  He insisted on a black cap and gown and even chose his march in song, which I was “People Get Ready” by Seal.  We never tell our students the format, but through a discussion of what they envision for their ceremony, we help them pull it together.  (I will sure be glad when one of our graduates decides to do something completely non-traditional!!)

One funny moment is when his mom called us and asked us to have him wear a blue gown. When we talked to him about it, he was resolute and said, “I AIN’T wearing no blue gown! I’m wearing a black gown and blue tassel!”  LOL!  We love that he felt freedom to say that. He is 18 for goodness sakes! I also love how his mom supported his final decision and just rolled with it.

Another beautiful moment was when students of all ages, staff and family gathered around him to pray for him.  Students from ages 4 to 18 laid hands on him and wanted to pray for this young man.  We all prayed for him as we gathered around him in a circle.  It was so organic, and so beautiful.

We will miss him, for he was such an inspiration to all of us. He came to us 2 years ago and wanted a different learning environment.  His last year with us, he did an apprenticeship at a local nature center, where he volunteered 2 days a week.  We are proud to say that they want to hire him as official staff, which is exciting to us because of his intense love of animals and caring for them (he has 5 bearded dragons!).  We don’t know where this path will lead, but we know he is ready to take on the world!

Our New Logo

old logo 2015It’s the end of 3 years.  We can hardly believe it!  We can also hardly believe that we are actually going into year number 4! Only God brought us this far.  It has taken us 3 years to finally settle on the logo that we feel represents who we are.  When we first started there were of course no students so we just put something together that we thought represented what we stood for, but it did not take us long within the first year to realize that original logo did NOT capture the unique philosophy of the school.

cropped-cropped-cropped-logo1.pngInto our second year, we tried again and although the community liked this logo better, it had nothing to represent the students and again our philosophy. It was just only “Christian.” Don’t get me wrong!  We are proud of our faith, but our school has a very central focus on students and how they grow, live and learn.  We kept this logo for the next 2 years and continued to toy around with how this new logo should look.

Students insisted that we keep a logo with a cross, but find some way to show the students.  Then one day it hit me as I watched students playing by the pond and climbing their favorite tree that sits by the pond.  Every day they go out, they hang out by this tree. They climb it, make swings on it, sit under it. Watching them enjoy this freedom opened my eyes to the beauty of the school. The freedom for kids to be kids, to get dirty, to climb trees, to look for tadpoles in the pond. This tree and this pond are really quite symbolic of our life here at the Living Water School.  So why not make our logo represent that?!

The tree by the water.  Thinking of that causes me to think of several verses:  “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water…that bringeth forth its fruit in its new logo 2018season.” (Psalm 1:1) and I also think of “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you…then you will bear much fruit.” (John 15:5).  This is the heart of everything to us.  We have a deep respect for the Sudbury Model and because of that respect and because  of it being a model that encourages schools not to adhere to any type of religion, we simply say we are mainly inspired by this model, but within the context of our faith and Biblical beliefs.  Even still, students attend our school who are not Christian because part of our philosophy teaches the importance of giving students the freedom to choose their religious path. We also strive to respect all people regardless of what they believe. This is why there are no formal Bible classes or theology that is taught. The environment is Christian and the community only comes together once a day to have devotions in the morning, but further Bible study is a choice with one of our ministers.

We do believe that children should be free. They should be free to learn as God created them, free to pursue their interests and passions, free to have a voice in how their school runs, free to figure out their own personal relationship with God….they should just be free! However, as a Christian school we seek to inspire students to explore freedom within a Biblical context.    I think finally after 3 years of this journey we have finally found the logo that expresses who we are and the freedom in Christ our students enjoy every day.

TRUST

schoolpics7Seems like yesterday (it’s been 3 years now), when I walked into Fairhaven School.  I was on a journey. My son was starting kindergarten and the realization that most schools were not ANY place I would want to send my child had hit me like lightening. What a relief I felt instantly as I walked into the building. I felt something I had never felt before, not even at the schools where I’d been a teacher or principal.  I immediately trusted them (unfortunately, I could not afford them at the time, but I guess that was God, because I probably would not have started this school! LOL!).  I trusted that even though the philosophy was so different from anything I’d experienced, I trusted that those who founded the school knew something about children and education.  I think traditional schools have done a lot to damage parents’ trust of educational leaders.  The system has a reputation of letting kids fall through the cracks if parents do not advocate and/or stay on top of their child’s progress, so it is instinctive for a parent to come into a new school, feeling as if they are fully responsible for their child’s success, that the school itself does not care about the child.  It has become a norm for parents to feel that way.

What made me trust Fairhaven?  Because there was an undenying confidence in what they stood for. I could feel it in the way the founder and other staff members spoke to me.  The confidence was so startling, that at first I thought it was rudeness, but I get it now.  They understood that most people are just not going to “get it.” The person who truly wanted this type of experience for their child, would do the reading and research necessary to “get it.”  I had not done that part yet. I trusted the Sudbury model with my heart first, before I trusted it with my mind.  I also realized that this confidence came from people who had come out on the other side, watching their students make it all the way through their program and succeed. It came from people who had experienced the system (found in both private, religious and public schools) and realized there has GOT to be a better way! I remember walking to my car and my mind was going so fast.  “You mean they just let children go, and learn organically?”  Then I realized that my own children could walk, talk and speak and I never TAUGHT them how.  It clicked for me at that point.  I realized that I would have to trust the philosophy, regardless of what pace my children learned. I had to trust nature. In my case, being a Christian, I had to trust God. I also had to trust that those who founded Fairhaven would not have gone through so much trouble to build the school if it were a lie.  Why would someone spend so much time, money and energy creating something that would doom children (You have to read their book LIKE WATER…Its amazing!)?  That just does not make sense!  They were not part of the government.  They could easily keep their feelings of job security and work for a public school and make a good salary, but they stepped out of that safety zone and did something as radical as start a Sudbury school.

I think the hardest thing for us at Living Water School is bringing our parents to fully trust us.  It does not matter that most of us have children of our own who are educated at the school (why would we as parents place our children in a place that was not the best for our own children).  I believe it is because most of these parents have been fighting the system so long. They are just used to not trusting.  The other day, as I tried to convince a parent to stay with us, I asked her, “Do you trust me? Do you trust that I would not promote a philosophy that would harm your child?”  She had to be honest and say, “I love you, but I don’t trust anyone.” What has the education system done to our families? Our children?  A school is supposed to be a partner with parents, where they can leave their kids and know that they are going to get the best care and education they can provide.  Yet, parents no longer trust schools.

The one thing I am asking myself now, is how do I bring parents to fully trust the process?  How do I bring parents to fully trust us who advocate for this type of education?  It’s hard to do when so many parents have been so abused by the system.  It may take years of students going through our program, graduating and achieving.  It may take time to prove ourselves. In the mean time, we keep pressing on in faith with what we believe.  I am thankful for the parents who trust, who read to understand, who journey with us into educational freedom. I am thankful for those parents who like me, trust with their heart and are joining me in the process of trusting with our minds as we watch our children grow and learn as God and nature would have them to.