Learning from Jelly Fish

jelly fishI want to explain my thinking on parenting and education to you since coming to embrace this educational philosophy and I want to do it by telling you about our recent camping trip. We went to Breezy Point Beach and had a campsite literally ON the beach. It was amazing. The water was warm and we were in HEAVEN. As we put our feet in the water and began to get in, we noticed a jelly fish, and another and then another.  Before long we were just sitting in the sand looking at the water.

Well, the next day, we found another beach at the campground that had been netted off so sea creatures couldn’t disturb our time in the water. We were so happy. We set up our umbrella, and all run to the beach. We’re splashing around, and then a JELLY FISH! There was a hole in the net and jelly fish were sneaking in. Well, my son got his bucket and started catching them and studying them. Then he would carry them to the unnetted area of the beach so he could set them free. My 7 year old, went out into the water, CATCHING jelly fish. They sting. They are dangerous. But he was so focused. He spent hours and hours, catching all types of jelly fish. Before long he would have small crowds of people around him as he talked to them about what he was learning about the jelly fish. He caught some that were eating a baby crab. He caught different color ones. He caught big ones, small ones. He caught some that were injured. He named them. He would just sit there and observe how they moved.

Was I nervous? Yes. Did I want him to stop? Yes. But he was following his interest which is his insane passion for animals. He was learning, exploring, experiencing, all without my interruption of his own designed learning process. I would ask him questions about what he was learning, but that was it. I did not interject or try to “protect” him too much. This is the epitome of what the school stands for. He NEVER got stung. My heart was in my chest the whole time and I stayed close in case he needed me, but other than that, he was free. This is the type of learning experience we are creating for every student that comes to the Living Water School. If this is what you want, you have to be brave, patient, full of faith in God’s ability to protect your little one and then be willing to set your babies free.

What We “Teach”

hurt kidI cannot help but feel deep sadness from the passing and suicide of Chester Bennington.  A gifted musician and artist, I found that he was severely bullied in school when he was young.  There are other stories like his.  I also read recently that the latest star of the new Spider Man, Tom Holland was also bullied in school.  I have read countless stories of gifted artists telling stories of being bullied in school. They often say that they were bullied for being so “different.”  There is a pattern here.  A child who is a little different than the mainstream, goes to school, is bullied for being so different.  They eventually get lost in their art, but still hold on to the scars from being bullied and teased.  Even though they grow up and become successful, those memories of being bullied and being made to feel inadequate do not go away.  In the quietness of their minds, the ghosts of those same bullies stand around them telling them how inadequate they are.  How do I know?  Because I cannot seem to forget the times when classmates would call me ugly.  Even though I am 43 years old, I cannot forget that, and as a result I have struggled with my own issues of finding myself beautiful (hopefully you will allow me to be a little transparent here?).

I feel that schools spend so much time on the academics, they never take time to noticehurting child the wounded student whose wounds may one day hinder them from hitting their full potential.  They also spend very little time creating an environment where all students, no matter how “different” they are, can thrive.  Chester Bennington, somehow had a deep pain that he could not escape.  He tried drugs, fame, fortune, marriage, and in the end he could not escape the pain.  I am taking a guess here, because I have actually seen students grow up and not be able to “forget” the pain of being bullied.” His sad time in school may have played a part in how he thought about life…about himself.

There are times where people may question why we spend so much time on character, sad black childself-esteem, vision building,  self-reliance, self-motivation, independence, etc.  The staff literally spend most of their time talking to students, and advocating for them to be themselves. We also spend a lot of time creating a school environment where the whole community graciously accepts ALL members of the community. To many this just does not seem important enough.  No, we do not have a set STEM program (but if any student expresses a sincere interest in STEM, we have the staff available to help them reach that goal), but we feel strongly that when you deal with the inner being of a person first, then they will strive to do well in those courses that help them reach their passion and goal in life.

The Judicial Committee (JC) is a great way for students to talk with members of the community when they feel hurt or that their pursuit of Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness is somehow being jeopardized.  I once had a parent angrily message me because her daughter missed her math session to do JC.  She failed to understand that kids being able to talk through their hurts and offenses, will actually clear their minds to do any subject necessary to reach their ultimate career goals.

As adults, we get so excited when kids excel academically, but I have seen these same students, when I served as a principal in traditional schools, grow up to be miserable adults!  Now I think of Chester.  Somehow the pain became too much and he never lecrying childarned the skills necessary to survive the hurts and pains of life. What if school were more focused on teaching students those skills, instead of only focusing on how to write an essay or to solve a Chemistry formula?  At the end of the day, I firmly believe that by learning the skills necessary to overcome hurt, obstacles, live in community, faith and much more inner character traits, will give them the power to do well in every single other area of life.

Dr. Anika T. Prather (Ms. Anika), Founder

Focusing ONLY on the School

From the Founder:  With a great deal of pain, we have decided to close all services to the homeschool community (The Homeschool Center and The Umbrella).  This in no way was an easy decision.  I recall when I visited a democratic school the summer I opened The Living Water School and told them that I was going to offer the umbrella and the Homeschool Center for working parents.  She strongly suggested that I don’t because this philosophy is  so different and really needs our undivided attention. Many times others will not understand.  Homeschool families many times may not support all of the freedom we want to give our kids.

At the time I did not see the difference so clearly.  I felt that homeschooling families and the community of people forming The Living Water School both wanted a more free way to educate our children, and that we could find some type of common ground.  I felt that the two communities could support each other as we both pursued alternative ways of educating our children. Well, we opened the school and opened the doors to the homeschool community, hoping to be a blessing to them as well.  Although we are so thankful for the homeschool families that supported the school, we found that our mentalities were so different.  We found ourselves straddling between two worlds.  We often found ourselves in conflict as The LW Community stood for almost complete freedom and independence for the student and the homeschool community, although supportive of the nurturing and creative environment, sometimes failed to see the vision behind what we were seeking to do. I remember being warned that the homeschool community would see our school as only a social gathering and not an educational philosophy to also be respected.

We gave it one more try our second year, and still found ourselves struggling to meet the  needs of a rapidly growing school and the needs of the homeschool community. We also found ourselves trying to explain our philosophy too much to those who are not open to the school’s stance in the first place.  I think of the verse that says, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).  I also think of when the Word says, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25).  It is time to focus on just The Living Water School.  The past 2 years have been amazing and the community grew to really love the homeschool students who became a part of our family.  However, we also found that time was lost as we tried to manage both programs.  While meeting with a homeschool parent, we could be outside discovering nature with the Nature Club.  While making sure homeschool students have done their work correctly (assigned by their parents) we could be making music with the music group.  While being distracted by the needs of those who have not embraced the Sudbury Model or other child-directed philosophies, we could instead be having more deep conversations with students who marvel at all of life’s random questions.

We want more time in this free space to connect with and engage with our students.  I think it really hit us, when we looked up and found our first graduate was leaving us.  2 years was too short!  I wonder how much more time I could have spent with the one we call “Chaos” because of all the craziness she brings to the atmosphere. She truly brings LIFE  to the school and she is now moving on to her own goals and dreams.  I am trying to imagine the school without her this year! Our students are on a serious journey to discovering their God-given purpose, and we as a staff take our supportive role in that journey very seriously.  It may seem messy, a bit chaotic, a bit unstructured, but if you look closely you can see things are starting to grow and bloom in each child. So, we turn our full attention to fulfilling the vision of the school.

Well here we are, getting ready to embark on year number 3 at The Living Water School. We have ordered our first set of  FREE AT LAST by Daniel Greenberg of The Sudbury Valley School and we look forward to learning and growing more in this philosophy.  We look forward to trying to comprehend and practice it within the context of being a primarily African American school (although we would SO love other races to join us here, so that we can truly live out the principles of a pluralistic democratic society).  We look forward to placing this philosophy within the context of our Christian faith and how the Bible’s teachings on tolerance can be lived out.  Now that we have taken some things off of our plates, we can focus.  Now, we feel there will be even more time to grow and evolve into a safe haven where  ALL children are respected by their fellow man and free to learn, grow and be whoever and however God created them to be!

How God Called Me to Sudbury

blog quoteFrom the Founder:  After so many years in education, I know that I have chosen a very odd philosophy to latch on to, but I just really believe in it. The research is there, and my own personal experiences have brought me to this place!

After serving as a public and private school teacher, a university supervisor (UMD) of student teachers for MCPS, a school administrator and now a principal…after these over 20 years in education and with all these experiences, I have come to a philosophy of such simplicity that it is sometimes hard to grasp or believe works. BUT IT WORKS! One just has to come to a place of trusting the process.

We have our timelines and even “bench marks” of where our kids should be, but most times, God has programmed something totally different into our child. When we force “our way” on them, I have seen so many times that it backfires, and we find ourselves frustrated with our kids. As a mom, when it came time to educating my kids and realizing my children are so different, finding this philosophy has been such a blessing. It has removed my anxiety. It has made my oldest son stop stuttering and to finally love reading. It has allowed youngest son want to learn to read at an early age. It has allowed my baby girl to already start writing. All these things happening when they are ready, but yet not feeling the pressure to perform to meet my expectations. They are just happy and free little souls discovering for themselves who God wants them to be.

We are praying  that God continues to bring families to the school who want more than just a nurturing small school that can fit into the traditional model (that will NEVER be us), but have embraced the concept of FREEING our children to learn and grow as GOD has designed them. We are looking for parents who really want their children to pursue their own dreams and not be trophies for parents to brag about. This is the child’s journey and I am and will always be an advocate for the child to be who they feel God leading them to be.

We misinterpret scripture I believe when we feel we have to force kids into their educational journey and discovering their life purpose. Joseph was given dreams as a YOUNG child, that even his father did not believe. Samuel was called by God himself and even Eli had trouble believing that God would be audibly talking to a young boy! We must come to a place of trusting our kids to follow their dreams and passions! We continue to disobey the Word when it says, in 1 Timothy 4:12 “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Children have a calling and we must let them pursue it! Just about every person God called to do mighty things in the Word were called as a young child that no one believe and everyone underestimated.