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“At the Antioch School…”: Mia Bates ’20 at the Antioch School

I’m led to believe that the month of May is busy in every school; there are always a number of events and special activities, excitement for summer and next year, surely some uneasiness about this school year coming to a close, the weather is suddenly warmer and the sun is out at lastenergy is generally high and often a lot needs to be fit in before the year is out. The Antioch School is very different from the average school: it’s the oldest democratic school in the country meaning decisions (from the group game played in the morning to the acts they’ll perform in their circus to the rules/guidelines of the class) are made with the children; there are no tests or textbooks, and grades are mixed, so no one is under any pressure to alter their learning pace or interests; it’s truly a child-centered school, with free time for play, social development, chosen activities and projects, exploring and discovering space, their peers, their own wants/needs/interests/strengths, the world that exists around them. The children are curious and self-driven, with the freedom to learn from such an array of sources and in so many different places. (If you’re interested: http://antiochschool.org/joomla_antioch/index.php/about/about-the-antioch-school). Even still, May is a very busy month, containing a play, the YG sleepover, the OG camping trip, an all-day camp-day for Kindergarten, an all-day hike for YG, the YG circus, and of course the annual picnic and 6th grade graduation ceremony.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the musical) was put on by the Older Group (4th through 6th grade) along with the Thirds from the Younger Group (1st through 3rd grade) the very last weekend of April. They spent the week leading up to it in the Clifton Opera House, having free time and lunch across the street on the old school’s playground. It’s something they chose (the story, the characters they portray, how the scenes should be blocked, etc.) and my role was simply to support, however that’s manifested in different ways.

The Monday of that week, what was left of the YG (about twelve 1st and 2nd graders) combined with the Kindergarten for some Forest Kindergarten time. Every Monday, the Kindergarteners begin their week outside in their Forest Kindergarten space (doubling as the OG’s Enchanted Forest in the fall)a wooded area with winding paths, a climbing tree, a lean-to fort made from found sticks, a fire pit, and lots of versatile space, but they also take hikes in the Glen, sometimes only to play on The Rocks, sometimes to Meatball Rock (Trailside), sometimes even a creek-crossing on a warm day. A recent YG project was state reports, where we walked to the public library, everyone choosing a book about their respective state, and throughout the week maps and state flags were drawn, they practiced researching and recording interesting facts, finally telling the rest of the class everything they found.

In any school setting or when working with children, you’re practicing being flexible and adapting to a constantly new set of circumstances and challenges. I think that by the nature of the Antioch School, it goes even further. I’ve had so much trouble describing to people what I do or articulating my role there. I tell people, “Oh, I just hang out with kids,” and that’s absolutely true and is how it feels the majority of the time. But there are so many other things happening as well, so much is coming from that and happens alongside it. I’m another presence (which is often very helpful as is), I help with math work, spelling and vocabulary, facilitating “meetings,” leading games, making snack, setting up for an event, being a friend. I can’t accurately depict my role, even though I feel comfortable and confident in it, I think in part because of the fluidity. I was telling a friend about the YG Sleepover (complete with s’mores and stories around a fire, tag games in the dark, sleeping in tents on the playground, and a pancake breakfast) and expressed how excited and happy I was to be able to act as a chaperonethe teachers know that the kids are all comfortable with me, that I know my way around, I’m trusted. And my friend said, without even thinking about it, “yeah, you’re just everyone’s older sister,” (a role I’ve been practicing for nearly my whole existence).

I’ve wanted to teach for as long as I can remember, surely to some degree because of my overwhelmingly positive experience in schools, including the Antioch School. So I’m so appreciative to be around so many wonderful teachers, overhearing so many daily insights about all the underlying things happening in any interaction. I love being in a classroom every day and having such inspiring conversations with these youthful people. I’m reminded every day of what I enjoy and want to spend my time doing, learning more and more about myself every day.

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Mia Bates is an Antioch College first-year student, hoping to design a major combining psychology and philosophy with the aim of teaching after graduating. She’s currently working as a Miller Fellow at the Antioch School in Yellow Springs.

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  • Dear Mia:
    I was a student teacher at The Antioch School for the entire year, 1955-56. It was an incredibly important experience,and led me to know that I could teach anywhere, any grade, and most subjects, which I later did! Best wishes. Sheila Dungan Riochmond ’57

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