For my second Antioch co-op experience I have had the privilege to work at two incredible educational institutions: Cambridge Friends School (CFS) and Paraclete Academy, an after school tutoring and enrichment program. Both organizations are located in the heart of the, currently ice encapsulated city of Boston and while the two schools are as different as night and day, they have each provided ample fuel to inspire and transform my educational philosophy, even as the winter weather has chilled me to the bone.
Upon arriving at Paraclete a few months ago, the first thing I noticed was the atmosphere of the place. Paraclete is located in a beautiful, old, re-purposed convent in the South end of the city, and the building is bursting with a distinct, wonderful character. In fact I think this initial feeling I had about the school has proved to be at the heart of what makes it such a wonderful program. Every weekday about fifty students from local schools come to the Paraclete and stay until around 8:00 in the evening. A small group of teachers work with the students during this time, teaching extra enrichment classes such as cooking, cultures of the world, and robotics, and also ensuring that the students finish and, more importantly, understand the homework from their primary schools. The concept is excellent, especially given the severe lack of personal attention given to students in most non-radical schools around the country, but what really makes the Paraclete shine for me is the space it creates for this wonderful group of children to come to. In my various musings on education it has always seemed that school should not only be a place for learning and personal growth; it should also hold the students in a safe and encouraging space, and Paraclete does just this. Students need security and consistency to give their learning structure and meaning. I think that the Paraclete’s unparalleled warmth and caring is something I won’t soon forget, and in just these short months this small school in an old convent has come to feel like a home for me as well. This gift of safety and structure that the Paraclete brings to students is invaluable!
Cambridge Friends has been a different matter, but again the nature of the wonderful program was palpable as soon as I began my first day. While Paraclete struck me with a sense of place, my supervisors at CFS immediately turned me loose to explore and visit classes; I was encouraged to assess for myself how I could best be of service, while also learning as much as possible from my time at the school. Of course, I quickly settled in and began finding projects to work on, and over my co-op have realized that this slightly less planned beginning to my internship actually embodies one of the beautiful, core principles of the Maker Movement as implemented at Cambridge Friends – the idea of self-direction leading to innovation. Working with my two supervisors at CFS, Cindy Mapes and Fonda Chin, I have come to see the huge impact that self-directed learning and design thinking can have on a student’s learning process. From watching beautiful, relaxed music classes with five and six years olds, to seeing a group of 8th graders design phenomenal memorials to the suffragette movement, to pulling music and Makerspace together and leading second grade classes in building their own versions of African mbiras (thumb pianos), my time at CFS has been a thoroughly joyful experience, filled to the brim with learning moments and innovation.
But wait, there’s more, because slowly, over the course of the co-op, I have come to a realization that I think stems directly from a hidden seed of wisdom that each of my employing organizations has hit in their own way; an idea that has taken a long time for me to put my finger on. It seems that often, when discussing education, parents might talk about wanting their children to be successful, school administrators say they want their charges to be competitive in an academically rigorous environment, and teachers fervently hope to prepare their students for life in the ever- changing world. I would hold however, that all of these things stem from an essential root, the essential fact that we all want children to be happy when they grow up. It is interesting to me that this essential truth is so easily eclipsed by the things which are meant to help achieve it. Academic success, career success, and global fluency are all ultimately meaningless if coming generations cannot, in one way or another, enjoy their victories. I think seeing the spirit of freedom and innovative thinking that CFS brings to academic work, and the wonderful sense of place that Paraclete gives its students, has shown me what the world of education is in danger of losing – the ingredients for happiness. I am, for the moment at least, convinced that above all, the goal of education is to enable us to live these lives we have been given in the happiest and most fulfilling ways possible! I am so incredibly thankful to both the Paraclete and Cambridge Friends School for giving me the wonderful opportunity to work for them, and grow as a person within their communities. This co-op has truly been a blessing!