First we were SWS at Peabody, then we packed up and moved to the Logan Annex in 2012.
After a year of basically fitting sixty-three clowns into a Volkswagen Bug, we moved, again.
This time to a huge building, Goding, located on 920 F Street NE.
This move marks the final home of School Within School and the realization of a dream. Our school will expand and continue on as a DCPS Elementary School.
Then came reality.
The families and children were to arrive August 26th!
This is the same scenerio we were in when we moved to our Logan Bunker last year.
The teachers and staff took deep breaths and began with a great deal of sweat and long hours to do the magic.
This included days and nights right through Saturdays and Sundays.
An all-call went out to the community and soon parents were coming in right from work, before work, during lunch, after they got their kids dinner, it truly was magic.
It is this cycle of ridiculous hard work, vision, compassion and belief that envelops and connects me to School-Within-School.
It is when two weeks before school is to open and Nicole Mogul, SWS parent, facilitated and organized teachers, parents, neighbors and community volunteers from Howard University to turn our weed filled mess of a yard into an oasis.
Look at this transformation:
This is why, despite the lack of sleep (and sore muscles this time) I continue to feel that I work within a community that is a model for caring, democracy and educational reform.
Not just once.
But again and again and again.
So we did the magic and then, here comes the children.
I never had a space this large before.
I am struck by the possibility of truly exploring The Environment as the Third Teacher (This link is a fantastic blog out of Australia called Let The Children Play, it is a constant support of ideas and inspiration!), which is a fundamental principle of Reggio Emilia-inspired schools.
When Jere Lorenzen-Strait, SWS Kindergarten Teacher, asked teachers at a staff meeting to write down their intentions for the year I wrote;
Deeply observing and exploring the Environment as the Third Teacher
Keeping the Reggio Emilia principles alive and burning.
“We believe the brain is not imprisoned by genes, that thought can be modified inasmuch as it interacts with the environment and that intelligence is the result of the synergistic cooperation of various arts of the brain.” (Loris Malaguzzi)
I decided to wait out starting a project, until I could really observe the children in the space, make changes and adaptations based on my observations, and slowly give all children guided discoveries while using our new space.
“This space is so big, I don’t even know what to think!” Dominic, Kindergarten
As I began this journey of observation and forming new connections with children (as well as reconnecting with returning students) my usual frustration of waiting to start a project was turned to glee;
The space, and the interactions of the children within the space is the project.
Here are some of my ongoing questions I am putting out into the community and universe. (These are images for these first few weeks of school, wow!):
It has been just three and a half weeks now.
I see the yearning and excitement and wonder as the children slowly encounter the Atelier and the Common Area.
There is so much space that collaboration happens more naturally than in all the past years.
My theory for this, is that children are now able to have personal space while working with small groups of their peers. Their bodies don’t accidently infringe on others space causing reaction. Their bodies are not accidently knocking over constructions or materials causing resentment.
The children can more readily access intentions because the space respects them, thereby encouraging them to seek, express, and exlore.
When I, for example introduce the Water Table, I sit next to the children. I facilitate relationships with the materials, their peers, and safety. I take notes, write down their conversations, struggles, actions, and interests.
When the water table exploration is done, I circle the children up.
“I know you thought you were just playing in the water, but you were artists and scientists. You experimented, used machines, tested theories, and explored. Some of you were authors and storytellers, using your imagination and creating new ideas.”
I then go around and read my notes about each child.
“Grace, I saw you being a scientist. You were exploring the marbles and the tubes with Zeke.”
She smiled, surprised that I saw this and then reflected, “When I played with the marbles, it went into the water but it didn’t float.”
They feel pride.
They feel accomplishment.
They are usually surprised and often nod or add anecdotal pieces.
“Lily and Ravi, you were authors and stortellers who used your imaginations. You had sick babies that needed medicine. You were measuring and giving them medicine.”
Lily added, “I like…LOVED…doing chicken noodle soup for the sick baby.”
And Gabe, you were an inventor who used his imagination. You said, “Let’s collect the marbles and make a waterfall of marbles!”
Josh added, “A waterfall of marbles, great idea!”
They feel noticed.
I then say, “Now I’d like each one of you tell something interesting or fun you did.”
Sometimes it is hard for children to do this at first.
Finn, PK4 “What was that thing called I like?”
Me, “A funnel.”
Finn, PK4, “Why is it called a funnel?”
Me, “I don’t know, Why is a table called a table?”
Finn, PK4 “I think I know why a funnel is called a funnel, maybe because it’s fun!”
Finding value in actions or thoughts or conversations and verbalizing them can be difficult. With support, every child was able to voice what was valuable. More importantly, these shared values are how the popular culture of School Within School grows and develops.
Supporting children to listen to their peers reflecting is equally important (and often equally as hard to do.)
Yesterday, in the morning, Andrew Chapman, SWS PE Teacher, gracefully and quietly informed me we were on lockdown.
Since I have been teaching in DCPS for 20 years, this triggers memories to all the other lockdowns.
My heart did a nosedive to sadness.
In the past five years I have noticed a horrible practice happening in many area schools.
Children of all ages are told they must walk the halls “with a bubble in your mouth.”
Just imagine this sight, lines of children looking quite freakish with their cheeks blown up, while intermittently a teacher snaps, “Put a bubble in it!”
Think of all the places you must walk and be civil. Sometimes you might just look around, sometimes you walk with a friend or co-worker and have a really good conversation.
When I ride the metro and see children swearing and yelling and being socially inappropriate for the setting, I always think, “They weren’t taught, it wasn’t modeled or practiced, someone told them to “Put a bubble in it.”
So yesterday, while on lockdown, because a man with a gun tragically out of control gunned down innocent people in the Navy Yard building while they were just walking in the halls, this is what I saw:
A class walking past talking to their friends in twos or threes as they walked or looked around at the environment, waving hello to friends or teahcers as they passed.
I saw two children skipping from the bathroom back to their class alone.
I saw one child yell out her younger brothers name. He ran and hugged her, and then they both continued with their class.
I saw a class go by and they all were holding their arms out like a circle and making SHHHH SHHHH noises.
“What are you?” I called out.
“We are walking sinks!”
At School Within School, we don’t put a bubble in it.
We find new ways to be, to grow, to find hope, to develop theories, to meet needs, to nurture, to recognize the glorious interconnectedness that can blossom within the walls of a DC Public School.
Again and again and again.
When the parents all came in to retrieve their children because of the lockdown, their faces beared the stress of others’ grief and the want to be close to their family.
I smiled and greeted them. I reminded parents that the children did not know.