This quote by Thoreau is painted in large letters in the library at Crotched Mountain School. I had to think about what this quote meant for I couldn’t immediately see its deeper relevance. Sure the school is on top of a mountain but there had to be some other connection. Then I remembered another quote that had been repeated time and time again during my first week of orientation:
“In this place, and with these people, I feel safe.”
That’s when it struck me; mountains are features of the land that are strong and true and to be on top of one is like being on an island. It’s safe, maybe a little isolated, but safe. Making sure the individuals we serve at Crotched Mountain feel safe is a huge priority. How can anyone thrive when they don’t feel like they are secure? They can’t. This in essence is what my job is; to make people feel safe and respected so that they can grow and learn and reach their full potential.
My job title on the mountain is “paraprofessional educator.” Every morning I go to one of the residential buildings and I help wake up the students for school. Through prompts and positive reinforcement I assist them with daily tasks, remembering to leave room for them to be as independent as possible.
Each individual is different, so there must be a constant awareness of people’s individual needs and abilities. Some are more independent than others. Some need to be told five times that it’s time to wake up before it actually processes. Some just need a little bit of coaxing. Some need assistance with getting dressed and going to the bathroom while others do it on their own in five minutes. Patience is key during each daily process. I am currently working on most days with one specific individual who is fairly independent but needs a lot of prompting. When he’s ready I walk him to school or we call the bus to pick us up. I drop him off at his class and then go on to my class to work with whichever student I’ve been assigned to for the day.
The students I’m working with in the classroom all lie somewhere on the autism spectrum. There is an abundance of personalities, learning styles, preferences, behaviors, and communication skills. They all have different schedules and I try to assist them in sticking to their schedules.
My job is just one among many at the school.There are psychologists on campus as well as occupational therapists and speech therapists. Often times a part of the school day will be to take students to see one of the therapists for a half an hour. They have art classes, music classes, and jobs that can earn them money and teach them vocational skills. In other words, they have all the things they need to help them grow as individuals.
Working here is teaching me a lot about my capabilities; my strengths and my shortcomings. Watching the kids as they go through their day sometimes makes me feel like I’m looking inside my own head and seeing things much more clearly. All the things that are hidden in most people are brought to light by the people we serve at Crotched Mountain. Simple things like the importance of having schedules and making connections with other people. I sometimes forget that these things are important. I’ll have an off day and not even think to realize it’s because I didn’t make a list of things I needed to do, or that I didn’t give myself a break after a difficult task, or even that I didn’t drink enough water, or that I didn’t talk to anyone all day.
More than these things however, I’ve learned about patience. I’ve learned that I need to smile more, cross my arms less, and live more outside of my head so that I can pay more attention to what’s going on around me.
While Crotched Mountain is a great resource it can only do so much. During orientation, a presenter (an Antioch alum) said one of the big criticisms people have about the mountain is that it doesn’t adequately prepare people for transitioning into the community after they have aged out. Now that I have been on the job and have seen how things operate I think that the problem is that there aren’t many services out there for that strange long period between being young and being old. Many of the students who leave the mountain do so having gained a great amount of independence and skills but that does not mean they do not still need some assistance. They are no longer children, but they are also not elderly so this assistance can be hard to find. It’s something that I plan on looking a little more into as I go. That said I realize that human services is a career option for me that only a year ago was not at all on my radar. And I suppose that’s what co-op is all about; discovering what it is that makes you tick.
This job is a difficult thing. You are serving living breathing humans whose reactions to the world are sometimes less in their control but are the same reactions as the ones we all feel internally even when we don’t show it. The services we provide help these individuals learn to express themselves, to communicate and to advocate for themselves as the beautiful people that they are. This is important work, and it’s all happening on a mountain top in the middle of New Hampshire. It’s a safe haven and there are few of these in the world. I am happy to be working at such a place.