Vol. 19, no. 4
September -- October, 2007
Welcome to the 2007 Youth Honor Awards issue! As usual, the selection was hard to make because of the quantity and quality of entries. For example, we received 124 amazing entries from the Na'au School in Hawaii! So, rather than selecting one specific student from the school, we are honoring all the students from the school. Similarly, we honor Ms. Young's third grade class at the Carrollton School in Miami, Florida. Congratulations to all the participants and teachers who continue to encourage their students to enter the awards year after year! Many more youth award entries will adorn our upcoming issues' pages!
2007 Youth Honor Awards!
Inspired by Nature
Fall is a time of return—of cooler weather, warmer clothes and of a more set routine due to school. There's usually a sense of excitement and change in the crisp air. Resolutions are made for the new school year that this will be the year that I will do better in school, surround myself with good friends, make the school team or play, or become a better writer.
In the natural world, it is also a time of return. Soon you will see migratory birds coming back or passing through your area on their yearly migration. One of my favorite parts of fall is seeing the swallows come back from summering up north. As I am biking home, I often stop at a bridge that crosses a river and watch them swooping. They skim the water with urgency. They are always hungry after such a long flight and they know they have farther to go to reach their new seasonal ground.
There is another amazing happening every spring and fall close to my house. Vaux's Swifts, birds somewhat resembling swallows, funnel in the thousands into a chimney of an abandoned school building. It must be still and cozy in there as they snuggle down for a night to rest their wings. A smart hawk sits and takes one each night, then is satisfied. What if someone tore down that "unused" building? The Vaux's swifts would be affected, and so would the hawk—until they found other places to sleep and other sources of food.
While I have always enjoyed noting the movements of birds each season, this year, I move as well. Does a place hold your memory? Is it different because you were there? Those are questions I often pose to my classes on the last day of school. One of my students told me recently that she didn't like going back to her old town because all she had to talk about with her friends was old memories, and it felt awkward and sad, because she remembered having such a good time there. It seems we want places preserved as they are in our memories, but the place itself wants to keep growing and changing.
Will my town be different if I return? I expect so. Will my town be different because I was there? I don't know, but I hope I made some positive contribution. Will I be different because I was there? Yes. The city I am now leaving and my work with Skipping Stones have both helped to make me who I am now. I am different and better because I was there. Having stopped to notice birds migrating helps me now—I feel it is okay to leave a place when it is time. You feel when it is time to move, it is as though the place says: "It's okay to go now, but don't expect me to stay the same if you return. I might be different. I might not have the same chimney for you anymore. But you'll find something else here, and it might be better than the chimney."
As you start school this fall, whether it be home-schooling, public school, or a new school, it will be different because you've grown and changed and become a more complex and interesting individual. If some things shuffle around, if you find yourself growing apart from an old interest and taking on a new one—it is life, it is change, and it is good. When facing the uncertainty of a new school year, do it with the right intent and take a brave leap—like the birds do when they set off on migration. You and the place will both be different. Enjoy the newness!
-- Nina Forsberg, now lives and works in Connecticut.
If Only One
New Year: Start Fresh
Dear Tyler, you may already have received varied advice: become strong and physically able; develop one or two close friends to hang out with in school; excel at a hobby which will help you stand out in the crowd; read good books. If so, it's not bad advice. But, I want to point out to you that I hear an assumption on your part that schools are based on competition, dividing losers from winners.
Many schools may be just so, but that is by choice, not by necessity.
I am in daily, close contact with an alternative high school, consisting of sixty students, six full- time and four part-time teachers. This school is based on everyone being accepted and accepting one another. This school is based on community.
Acceptance into the school is based on each student's agreement that: it is the student's own choice to enroll in that school; each student commits to resolving conflict non-violently; each will seek to create an emotionally safe climate for all.
The success and advancement of each person is the aim in this community. Words and deeds of encouragement and caring are treasured by the one who receives them. These gifts of support flow from teacher to student, moving gently from one person to another. This style becomes the nurturing language of this community. Vital to the strong core of this school are the relationships between teachers and students and school head. Teachers are not hired principally for their factual knowledge of a field of study. Of course that is considered, but teachers are hired for their ability to have a strengthening, inspiring and healing relationship with each student. Subjects for study and discussion within that school arise out of all kinds of material: the interest of a particular student, life experiences, news items, an experiment, music, art, etc. Likewise, from freshmen to seniors, students participate in classes together. No "older" senior lords it over a "younger" freshman.
When a student does engage in unfortunate activity, such as attempting to steal money out of someone's purse, a community meeting is called. Students and teachers sit in a large circle. Usually a student facilitates the meeting. The conversation is likely to flow somewhat like this:
Tyler, the school I describe is Wellsprings School in Eugene, Oregon. I recommend that you visit alternative high schools and that you look for one where you can blossom, rather than accepting one where you fear being judged a failure.