Today was the first day of school for the Ampersand School. This is my third year teaching here. Actually it’s only my second under this name. Two years ago we were known as Lawton Chiles Prepatory school.
We came to this year with a much longer sense of community. We spent a week planning. This wasn’t planning like most other schools, and believe me, The Ampersand School is not like most other schools. It may not be like any other school. We spent the first week of planning discussing our culture. We knew what we didn’t want to do. We knew what had been working when done well. We really wanted to flesh out what a way to make it simpler, not more complex.
We have designed a flowchart and brainstormed about a virtual tour. A lot of what was on our virtual tour – concrete stops we’d like to see as well as ethereal and theoretical showcases- we decided we could put into practice. When asked to create a virtual tour I decided to start at the dumpster. I wanted to use the dumpster as a metaphor to show what we had thrown out, and then it dawned on me that we don’t throw everything out from what is known as mainstream schooling, some of that we recycle. That idea went a long way.
A rough exclamation of the flowchart, I will try to post the actual flowchart in the future, it starts with a theme a broad based idea which the faculty suggests. From there the action starts. He goes a right into exploration. We start exploration by reading texts. Close reading of novels offers us the chance to not only read for completion and comprehension and vocabulary but also for a deep understanding of all the places the content can bring you. Whenever you hear of a setting or an idea or a freezing that makes you say, “what is that?” you have an opportunity for exploration. For example, if in reading Dracula you are engrossed in the story, but you keep hearing about old tribes and if they cities of old Eastern Europe that you’ve never heard of before, you explore that and that becomes what your Dracula unit is all about. Listen, if you want to do a book report, I suppose that’s good too.
But today was day one. I decided to go with culture. I let them know that this is a safe place to be vulnerable and take risks- even fail. What is more vulnerable than a teenager giving and receiving compliments? We didn’t force it. We made it fun. I read them a story about giving Warm Fuzzies and avoiding Plastic Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies. We constructed little cans covered in paper and other objects n which we could receive written compliments and other warm fuzzy gifts. It was purposefully silly and immature. It was intentionally designed to introduce community and culture of caring support. Teenagers see themselves most clearly in the reflections of others.