Starting Up Again

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Way back when in freshman year…

Today was my last first day of a high school semester and I already feel like we’ve jumped right back into things. I’ve already been planning events, attending meetings, and doing homework; not much has changed, and yet things feel somehow different knowing it’s almost over- not yet though and there is still so much to do!

It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to take off right where you left off when you are around the right group of people.

Full Experience

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Just about every winter break I’ve gone to New York to see my family and I just love the culture of the city. There are so many different types of people that people watching is fun anywhere you go, plus there are so many different art installations, and amazing restaurants!

One of my favorite parts is having the ability to walk outside and get places so easily. When I’m there I’m given a key and a metro card and the freedom to explore the city. However, growing up in Atlanta without good public transportation, I’m still not really use to this freedom, so I don’t go far yet.

IMG_6390.JPGThis trip was full of adventures because I got the joy of having my best friend come to the city with us for her first time ever, so we had to give her the full experience.

We ate my favorite egg bagels fresh in the morning and pizza the size of your face for second dinner almost daily. We saw amazing shows such as Black Angels Over Tuskegee, The Color Purple, Chicago, The Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and Avenue Q. We went to the botanical garden and saw a train exhibit made entirely of natural material. We heard my mom yelling at stupid cab drivers in Time Square. We sprinted down street blocks to img_6427catch subways on time for events. We went to my favorite museum: an interactive math museum. We played Disney Cranium with the conductor for the Book of Mormon. We rushed between shows to see the Statue of Liberty from a distance. And we finished the trip by spending New Year’s Eve on the roof of my aunt’s best friend.  

It was a great and non stop adventure, and I think we really captured the full New York experience.

IMG_4793.JPGIt’s amazing what you can accomplish in just a few days when you have the ability to travel so accessible. Whether it’s a bus, subway, train, ferry, or feet, New York has so many ways to get around and it’s the biggest thing I always miss about the city.

 

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Inspiring Minds United At Last

What happens when you take motivated students from unique schools across the east coast and bring them together for a conference? Mind-blowing awesomeness!!!!!

I’m currently in Washington D.C. for a 3 day conference called SparkHouse run by Education Reimagined. To be honest I don’t entirely know what’s going to happen these next few days, but today was the initial dinner meet up and it was fantastic!

Everyone here (students and teachers, and it’s mostly students on purpose) is just great and very open and clearly creative and passionate about how education needs to change. I feel like I’ve known these people forever because everyones so easy to talk and relate to. Plus everyone comes from a school doing awesome weird stuff, so it’s been super interesting learning about the different school styles. It’s actually become a joke that the way we introduce ourselves and our starting conversations are based on, “So why are you here? What does your school do that’s different?”

So far I’ve met people from Virginia, South Carolina, and Kentucky and I’ve heard all sorts of cool things. For example: students running a Kroger and a bank at school; students from 7th-12th grade having classes together; students spending each Friday doing crazy activities like mountain biking; students that have no grades or standardized tests; and I’m sure I’ll learn more in the days to come!

IMG_6200.JPGNone of the students really know what we are going to be working on quite exactly, but we’re excited to share our voice and have enjoyed playing games and talking together so far. I can’t wait to see what’s in store because we’ve gathered a pretty inspiring group of minds so I feel ready for anything right now!

 

Part of Life

IMG_4221.jpgI know I’m a nerd and an actress, as do many others, but a lot of people don’t realize, or remember at least, that I’m also an athlete- and I’m not just talking about gymnastics/acrobatics. I’ve been playing soccer since I was three years old and I’ve played on a number of teams from the YMCA, to Concord Fire, to Windsor’s select team, and my freshman and sophomore year I attempted to juggle playing Varsity on top of everything else.

Last year was actually the first year since being three that I didn’t play soccer for any team. My rec team didn’t have enough girls signed up to play in the fall. Then in the spring, I quit Varsity because trying to go between drama and soccer was challenging, and being the only girl in the grade playing on top of not really making practices made it hard to connect with everyone. But connection is in my opinion one of the most important parts to having a successful team of any kind. My rec team has been playing together since u8, so for about 10 years now. Back then we had two teams because there were so many girls and our coach had two daughters about 2 years apart, so there was an older team and a younger team and some of us played for both. Every year we have some people leave, some people get too old to be on the team, and some new people join, but the team has always had a strong core of people who have been playing together since the beginning. This strong core has continued to make the team so much stronger because we all know how each other play and can trust each other on and off of the field. The group mind is so good that there are times where we can say nothing and yet know exactly how people will move on the field and get the ball to our team.

I use to go to school with a lot of my teammates and they’ve always been some of my best friends, so not having this team last year was really hard because then I didn’t see people as often. Luckily this year our team is back and I’ve had a great time so far at our two games getting to play a sport I love with people I love. We call ourselves the Misfits since most of us have past playing for really good teams, but now we just play rec, don’t practice, have barely enough to play each game, and typically play the entire game, yet we are still able to win 4-0 like this weekend’s game even with two new girls who have never played before.

Playing on this team reminds me of how sad it is when you stop seeing some of your best friends all of the time. School is such a big part of our lives that once you go to a different school it becomes so much harder to stay in touch with people. That’s what I’m least looking forward to about college- saying goodbye to so many great friends. Sure I hope to stay in contact with people, but I know from experience that you never stay as close to people once you stop seeing them everyday. Even seeing my soccer friends again this year at games doesn’t feel like enough. It often seems that there will never be enough time, so I’ve just learned to remember to cherish every moment of time we do get to spend together.

Sometimes We Need a Retreat

CrCWoiyW8AAPE1J.jpgIt’s been a long week for me, and one that was blog-less. A lot of things have been happening in life not just for me but for several of my friends as well which has created some extra stress, so I think it was good to retreat from blogging.

And it was great to have our senior retreat this past Sunday-Monday! We desperately needed a break from the world. My grade is honestly just wonderful; I couldn’t imagine a better group of peers to have gone through high school with. I love how everyone get’s along so well and we all feel comfortable with each other enough to start conversations with anyone. It makes team challenges way more fun and successful which I always think is a plus.

Though we did less activities than past retreats- swimming in a wave pool and paint ball this time- the trip as a whole was exceedingly meaningful to every senior at our school.CrDzAPtVYAAIVCE-1.jpg

There is one particular activity we did as sophomores that we did again now as seniors that was heart wrenching both times, which we just call “circle time.” We pick our own small group of people to go out anywhere around the site, then we sit in a circle with one person in the middle. That person then goes around and every person on the outside says something they appreshiate about the inside person that just needs to be shared.

As sophomores, this activity meant the world to my friend group. The next 3 years of high school were strongly built on the moments we shared in that circle.

As seniors, some people were almost in tears before we even started; just the thought of the love that was about to be shared between family (we’ve long passed mere friendship) was enough to cry happy tears about for the past, and sad tears for a future not as connected to each other.

Everyone was a happy mess by the end of the night. And as we circled around the Cq_2WBkWEAAlX1e.jpgcampfire, gazing at the stars and each other by the light of the fire, everyone left their own hopes and burdens aside, if only for a moment, to appreshiate the community of support we’ve built up over the past 4 years.

Sometimes you just need to have those deep, thoughtful, and appreciative conversations with others. We all just need a break sometimes. Time to let go of all of the stress if even just for a moment, and to appreshiate the supportive people around us that inspire us to be better humans each and everyday.

Our senior class bonded in ways unmeasurable by any school scale in these past few days. We were already close, but this retreat was well needed and invaluable. To think that we almost didn’t have this retreat (this year only seniors got a retreat) is inconceivable because I can’t describe just how much it meant to all of us. Everyone came home and started texting on the group chat we created for all of the Cq_NKBDXEAU-3zg.jpgseniors about how we loved the trip so much that we want to plan another for later in the year; even if not school related, most of the grade is interested in going camping, or having some sort of all senior retreat part 2.

Retreats are something everyone needs every now and then. I’m so glad that our grade got the opportunity to go on a retreat every year of high school because each one meant so much to me. They were some of the high lights of each year because they were moments where my friendships strengthened in ways I couldn’t imagine possible. I’m so grateful for our teachers who fought for us to keep this tradition alive at least for seniors; I already know it will be a notable moment for the entire year still ahead of us.

Best of Both Worlds

Days until the first day of school: four. Days until senior bootcamp: three. Level of craziness happening in my head right now: threw the roof.

I feel as if I have so much to do still before school starts. I only got back into Atlanta on Tuesday and I’ve been busy every second of the day. This week I’m finally taking my in car driving lessons; most people that know me know this is a big deal because I’m always hitchhiking rides with friends since I just hadn’t really taken the time to learn how to drive within my two years of having a permit…

Meanwhile, I’ve also been helping move stuff in my sister’s room (including setting up an IKEA loft bed), coaching camp, going through old school supplies and preparing new ones, trying to finish editing the article I’ve written for an e-magazine, working on finishing at least one of my 3 college essay drafts (I only need 1 but I can’t decide on an approach I like best), finishing up summer math (2 topics to go!), finishing up my AP Latin summer reading, and going to both of my siblings orientations since one is at camp and the other needs an adult figure. So basically there’s a lot to be done in the next 3-4 days.

However, at the same time I am excited for parts of school to begin. I am super excited that my study hall finally is the same time as band so I can actually practice with the high school band some without missing a core class! I also can’t wait for theater to start especially after talking to my director today and learning more about our awesome set and one act play competition plans. (Plus my next show makes me the record holder for most high school shows with a total of 12!) With knowing my schedule it also means that I already know which classes I’ll have with some of my friends and there are some that we’re just all really excited for because we know that when we’re in class together it’s always a good class. Innovation Diploma will also be welcoming our 3rd cohort, the Gates Cohort, starting Tuesday and I’m deeply curious as to what the future holds for us there. And as much as I am not thrilled with ending senior year, there will definitely be a lot of fun senior moments in the future which I’m also excited for!

I love how in the summer I have the freedom to travel and create my own schedule, but I also love how the school year has so many opportunities due to resources and the benefits of collaboration. If only there was a way to have the best of both worlds, because that would be wall shattering, mind blowing, and game changing in the most awesome way!

The First Step to 21st Century Education

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I’ve had a a fantastic week at the beach with my friends on the lovely island of Sanibel. Even despite the tropical storm that came in, we had a lot of fun on the beach, in the pool, biking around, playing games, reading, and just hanging out and talking together.

I was reading Future Wise over this vacation and thus thinking more about the future of education– yes, even while on vacation these are the things I think about, I know I’m weird that way. I have realized that even though it is summer I find myself constantly thinking about school. I find myself not always being “productive” over the summer which is odd to me because I typically am very consumed with school work, self selected work, meetings, clubs, theater, acro, band, etc. What I’ve noticed is that I am very fond of school.

This isn’t really surprising to me because I’ve always rather enjoyed school. When I was younger I would say I love school without a second of hesitation. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself more annoyed with school and always waiting for the next holiday break or even just the weekend during the school year. So really I guess what I miss isn’t quite school, but really I miss the company of fellow learners working, discussing, and creating new ideas together; I don’t miss all of school as I use to back in elementary school.

This made me wonder: “Why is it that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less fond of school is so many ways?” My hypothesis is that I don’t like school as much as I use to because school is no longer just about the fun and wonder of learning, but now it has become a stressful climb for “success”- however we might define that.

Thinking like the designer I believe myself to be, I decided to test my hypothesis about how stressful school is to older students.

I send a text to 13 students currently in high school and 2 in college from a total of 7 different schools across 3 different states asking this question: “What are specific examples of things that make you stressed, and why do you think they make you stressed?” Then I waited to see if their answer would have something to do with school, even though I specifically did not ask, “What makes you stressed at school?”

I did not provide any explanation as to why I was asking the question until after they had answered, if they asked, because I did not want to influence their answers in any way. Though in honesty, I did not get responses from everyone (it is summer after all and people are concerned with other things as expected though I only missed a few), the results to my small test were overwhelmingly inline with my hypothesis.

Most students responded with something having to do with school being the cause of their stress. The results varied between stress when teachers all assign big things due on the same day causing students to loose sleep, and when core classes and extra curricular events battle for time priority, and having pressure intentionally or unintentionally placed on them to get certain grades, and a myriad of answers about the struggles of figuring out where to go to college (these responses in particular often had many layers to them with everything from researching, to financial problems, to parental influence, to feeling confused, to fears about the general future of their existence riding on this one major decision- you get the idea).

Now I will say that there were other things that came up in my conversations about stress. Not everyone mentioned school at first at least, but as soon as I explained my hypothesis about school stress, 100% of those students acknowledged that school stress is a major problem and gave ample examples to support the claim.

I know this was a small little test with not the most scientific report, but I’m confident that if I was to expand my pool of users, I would find that a majority of upper level students get overwhelmingly stressed about school.

This is a problem.

Why do we let stress overwhelm school students? How can we expect students to become life long learners when they associate learning, which is most closely associated with school, to their primary source of stress? How might we make learning fun again?

One of my good friends from Nerd Camp whom I asked this question to, discussed for a while with me about how much we both love learning and yet how school has taken away from that love a little more every year. When I asked her why she thinks that is she gave a response that I believe to be sadly accurate:

“Learning isn’t really encouraged in school, success is.”

However, as another one of my Nerd Camp friends pointed out,

“And a lot of the time you can succeed in school without learning anything.”

As we have grown older school has become about getting good grades, so we can get into a good college, so we can get a good job, so we can have a good life; the idea of going to school because we love to learn and explore and wonder and just have fun being curious has been lost.

I know that these feelings and goals are not in any school’s motto, learning plan, or mission statement, but if this is what students’ are feeling then does it really matter what’s written on paper or proclaimed to audiences?

In my opinion, any school’s true goal is to create life long learners by preparing them with “lifeworthy” and “lifeready” knowledge, skills, and wisdom. But what distinguishes a lifelong learner from just another student at a school, is that a lifelong learner continues to seek out new knowledge and skills and wisdom even after primary education is complete, because lifelong learners find unwavering joy in learning. 

Stress can easily shatter joy; if we wish to guide students to find joy in learning, then we must find ways to eliminate some of the stress found in school- no matter the school you attend. That is the first step that needs to be taken on the path to 21st century education.