... at Eve's middle school. Those words are enough to strike fear (or frustration or boredom or eye-rolling) into most adults I know. One friend, confiding to me that she wasn't going to her daughter's Curriculum Night, explained that it is essentially an open house where the parents travel from room to room, following the path that their child takes during the day. Not much time for in-depth conversations with teachers or parents of other students. Not all that illuminating.
So why did I bend over backwards to go? Because Eve's school is different than any other school I've ever encountered. For examples of how, you can read this which has two other examples embedded within it. Suffice it to say that I LOVE THIS SCHOOL. So I was interested in what this year would look like for Eve and I moved Heaven and Earth to make sure I could get there.
And while I fully expected a happy ending, I still managed to be surprised at the depth of the presentation. Eve's 6th grade team has got it together! They have designed a curriculum that is integrated across all subjects (yes, music, art, physical education, math, humanities and science included) and speaks to the developmental phase that these girls are in right now. They have taken into account the brain research that shows how 11 and 12 year old girls' brains work, what they are interested in (themselves, mostly), and how best to engage them in the learning process. Each of these instructors stood up and talked about how excited they are about what they are charged with teaching to the girls this year and how important it is that each and every one of the students feels connected and supported and empowered within this community.
Now I understand that cynics' eyes are rolling at this point. Rhetoric. I'll believe it when I see it. But let me tell you that I do believe it. Because I've seen it. Last Thursday, the entire class embarked on a camping trip that was designed for team building. The girls did a ROPES course, rock climbed, and challenged each other and themselves physically, emotionally and mentally, sharing information about their hopes and fears for this school year. Last year, the 5th graders in Eve's class did similar exercises and came together so solidly as a group that when spring basketball signups rolled around, despite the fact that only two of the girls in the class had ever played basketball before, nearly the entire class went out for the team. Despite the fact that they looked more like the Harlem Globetrotters after a couple of bottles of tequila out there on the court, nobody worried about looking silly. They were simply a group of girls having fun playing together. As. A. Team. Let me repeat that: 5th-grade girls not worried about other girls making fun of them for looking silly. Because they trusted each other.
This school year is designed to be all about the girls. Because they are all about themselves right now. The first third of the year is spent exploring how they got to this point. In Art, they are looking at aboriginal art, basic techniques and building blocks. The Humanities teacher has them reading the book "Nation" by Terry Pratchett in an effort to get them to understand society-building. The Music teacher is exploring rhythm and the Science teacher has them building simple machines out of Lego blocks. The Math teacher is making sure everyone has basic skills in mathematical operations and the PE teacher is helping them tell their own stories, physically and verbally. How did I get here? To this point?
The second third of the year asks "Who am I?" Again, each teacher has his or her own way of exploring that question with the girls. For example, the girls will be sketching self-portraits in Art and breaking down the human body into operational systems (digestion, circulation, etc.) in Science.
The last portion of their studies focuses on development. Where are we going from here? They will all work together toward the end of the year for their final culmination ceremony which is a three day bike ride and camping trip on a nearby island. They will push themselves farther emotionally and physically than they ever thought they could, all while using simple machines (bicycles), examining this tribe they have created over the past nine months, and feeling supported.
I caught up with one new parent on our way out last night and she turned to me and exclaimed, "The teachers are all so dynamic! So different from my middle school experience. I wish I could go back to school like this!" I couldn't agree more. I wish every child had the opportunity to be a part of an educational experience like this. I love that Eve's school supports a diverse array of families through scholarships and opens up to kids who wouldn't otherwise get this opportunity, but it still isn't enough. Until we as a society begin demanding this kind of thoughtful, deliberate approach to education, involving the teachers in curriculum creation that excites them and empowers them and giving them the flexibility to utilize things like brain research and outside-the-box thinking, most kids won't ever experience this kind of education. I feel pretty damn lucky that Eve and Lola will and I can only hope that they will find a way to work toward making sure more kids get it, too.