New Guides and New Roles for the 2023-2024 School Year! 

The word is out on learner-centered education and we couldn’t be more excited about the number of educators who are passionate about our mission here at TVS. After reviewing over 150 guide applications, 40 phone interviews, and 15 in-person (and learner-led) interviews, we are thrilled to welcome five new Guides to complete our team and help us welcome new families to our community for the 2023-2024 school year! 

At the same time, some of our current team members will be taking on new roles. It is our hope and belief that these positions will strengthen our learning design, our community, and our ability to deliver on our mission.

New Team Members

Aaryn Drapiza- Lead Adventure Studio Guide

Aaryn is a lifelong learner and deeply passionate about inspiring others to follow and nurture their natural curiosities. She discovered her love of guiding learners while working with children of all ages as a swim teacher, teacher’s aide, camp gymnastics instructor, and nanny. After graduating with a degree in Humanities, a discipline that challenged her to think critically and never stop asking questions, Aaryn pursued a path in education so she could continue inspiring, equipping, and connecting young people on their journeys. Aaryn has worked as an Elementary Guide and Lead Middle School Guide and is excited to further her education experience at The Village School. She also has her Upper Elementary Diploma from the North American Montessori Center. In her free time, Aaryn enjoys listening to audiobooks, singing along to musicals, running, and exploring DC. 

Madelyn Brewer- Lead Discovery Studio Guide 

Whether it is discovering what makes something float or memorizing the lyrics to the latest Disney hit, Madelyn aims to guide learners with the same boundless enthusiasm and curiosity that they embody every day. Madelyn received her Bachelors in Philosophy from Connecticut College in New London, CT. However, it was her volunteer time and work outside of school that inspired her to pursue education. Since beginning her career, Madelyn has taught at a country day school, a project-based micro-school, and a parochial school. Madelyn is eager to join a school community where she can prioritize what she considers essential for young people to thrive–a multifaceted approach that nurtures curiosity, confidence, and independence. It was only natural that she found her way to The Village School!

Cara Borja-  Lead Discovery Studio Guide 

Cara has a strong passion for the fields of science and education. She received two undergraduate degrees in biology and psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a master’s degree in neuroscience from Brown University. During her studies, she actively pursued teaching opportunities and obtained professional teaching certification in middle school science. Her professional work experience includes being a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, working for non-profit communities in Washington, D.C., and being an educator in multiple areas in the DMV. 

She loves building connections with young people, enhancing their knowledge and curiosity about the world, and having the opportunity to make a positive influence on their lives. She is thrilled to be continuing her journey at The Village School!

Lauren Coyle- Lead Spark Studio Guide

The first “classroom” Lauren experienced was the grapefruit groves her family cultivated for generations, where she dug in the dirt and helped care for trees with her dad.  There, she learned that education is more than desks and tests; education is experience, learning with your hands, and cooperating with others to grow something new.  Lauren loves witnessing each child’s unique sense of wonder about the world and welcomes the chance to be curious with them as they learn.

Lauren has a B.A. in psychology from The College of William and Mary and a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from George Washington University.  Alongside coursework in child development, Lauren interned at two different schools in D.C.  She completed her residency at a community mental health center in Fairfax and then continued there as a full-time clinician, conducting individual and group therapy sessions for patients of all ages. After taking some time off to raise three toddlers, Lauren grew passionate about combining her background in psychology with early childhood education and five years ago returned to the workforce as a lead teacher at a Reggio-Emilia-inspired preschool. She is excited to join The Village School Guide team and aid in cultivating young learners’ natural ability to follow their interests and learn in community with others. 

Lauryn Elliot- Visiting Guide

Born and raised in Northern Virginia, Lauryn is a native of the area and has always strived to give back to her community in any way that she can. Lauryn is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and crossed at James Madison University where she earned her B.A. degree in Justice studies with a minor in Political Science and pre-Law. Lauryn is currently pursuing an M.S. in Political Science at Liberty University and has hopes to earn her doctorate degree. Lauryn has always had the enthusiasm, determination, and passion for being a guiding hand for the younger generations and has witnessed firsthand how different pedagogical approaches can improve a child’s education. Lauryn is excited to join a community of life-long learners at The Village School and support the mission of empowering young people to become architects of their own learning!

New Roles

Hannah Runyon- Program Designer and Camp Director

Hannah graduated from Colorado College with a degree in Geology and Environmental Issues. She is passionate about inspiring curiosity and critical thinking in connection with natural world and has worked with children of all ages as an environmental educator, mentor, camp counselor, nanny, and wilderness trip leader. Hannah grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York and attended non-traditional schools as a child. In her free time, she likes to run, make clothing on her sewing machine, bake, and make pottery. 

Hannah has spent the last two years at The Village School as an Apprentice Guide and Discovery Lead Guide. She is excited to be stepping into the role of Program Designer and Camp Director for the 2023-2024 school year, which will allow her to utilize her passions and talents for learner-centered curriculum design and outdoor education. Although Hannah will miss guiding learners each day in the studios, she is excited for the opportunity to design and lead camps at TVS throughout the school year- and as always, to continue learning!

Rebecca Blake- Assistant Guide and Extended Day Coordinator

Rebecca grew up in Northern Virginia exploring nature trails and historic sites in the area. She received a BBA in Computer Information Systems from James Madison University and worked for a technology company before moving into education. Creativity and play foster a love of learning she is passionate about sharing. She spent a year teaching a nature class, helping students explore the woods, cultivating youth leadership, and teaching technical outdoor skills in a mixed-aged learning environment. Rebecca believes learner-centered education is crucial for keeping learners engaged and responsible for their own education, acknowledging individuals’ unique interests and strengths. She loves to see a learner excited to learn more about a new topic or feel pride in understanding a tricky concept. She endeavors to empower learners to think creatively, use empathy, and solve tough problems. In her free time, Rebecca enjoys reading and hiking.

Rebecca has spent the last year at The Village School as a Visiting Guide and Assistant Guide. She is excited to continue on as an Assistant Guide with the goal of supporting our Wellness and Spark programs as well as taking on the additional role of coordinating and overseeing TVS’s Extended Day program for the 2023-2024 school year.  

Join us in celebrating our new guides and new roles to complete our team for the 2023-2024 school year!

Life-Worthy Learning

“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

I recently had the pleasure of talking with one of our fifth-grade learners at The Village School who is getting ready to make the transition to the middle school studio. As we chatted, he shared some of his thoughts about his growth and progress over the past few years. He said, “I wasn’t as focused last year and I let a lot of distractions slow me down. Because of that, I’ve had to work extra hard this year. I know middle school is going to be really challenging and I definitely learned what NOT to do if I want to meet my goals and stay on track. I can still have fun, but I have to do the work each day too.”

In a learning model like ours, young people are given the opportunity to be trusted with their own learning. It’s easy to do when you sit next to a learner, like the one above, who can provide such clear insights and lessons learned from this opportunity they are given. It can be a lot more difficult when you’ve yet to see them connect these dots.

Like anything, being able to “connect the dots” comes from practice. It takes repeated practice to learn how to thoughtfully reflect on your experiences. It’s also developmental. Younger learners are most suited to reflect on something that just happened, or that happened yesterday. Eventually, the time spans get longer- we can look back at the last week or the last month. Eventually, we can look back over a longer period of time- thinking about who we were and what we were capable of earlier in the school year, or last year, and compare and contrast that to who we are today.

Growth over time is the goal. But even more than that is our young people’s ability to measure and assess that themselves. There is no greater tool than practiced reflection to solidify this connection.

Through practice, they will get there. Once they do, their ability to reflect and learn from their experiences will blow you away. Take a look at last month’s end-of-session reflections from the learners in our elementary studio (ages 8-11).

In experiential learning, making space for reflection is paramount. It’s the antidote to mindlessness, in which we just keep plodding forward in “go mode” with no conscious awareness of what it is we’re actually experiencing. Reflection is how we learn life-worthy lessons- lessons that we tuck in our back pocket, ready to be used at moment’s notice, lessons that we wear in our stance, perhaps with a new aura of confidence or self-assurance, and hopefully, lessons that can be applied to whatever experiences await.

Learning to Learn

The focus at The Village School is on building the skills and mindsets of a self-directed learner. 

The first year or so at TVS involve a young person learning how to learn.  For each studio, these starting points look different. In Spark Studio, it starts with learning how to do something as simple as staying focused for 10 minutes on a task or participating during circle time. In Discovery Studio, it looks like learning how to set smart goals consistently, or how to navigate the systems in a learner-centered studio.  In Adventure Studio, it looks like learning how to manage your time, or learning how to give and receive meaningful feedback. 

These are the things a young person is learning in their first two years in a self-directed learning community such as ours: 

  • Developing a growth mindset/(vs fixed mindset)
  • Learning how to respond to failure/mistakes 
  • Learning to take responsibility for their choices 
  • Learning to give and receive feedback from peers
  • Learning how to hold their peers accountable
  • Learning how to participate in discussions productively
  • Learning to work well with peers on group learning activities 
  • Learning to regulate emotions
  • Learning to advocate for themselves and others
  • Learning to set goals for a day, then a week, then a session
  • Learning to organize their belongings and their work
  • Learning to track their work accurately
  • Learning which systems to use when
  • Learning to operate a laptop
  • Learning to navigate their learning without it being micromanaged by a teacher

These are real-world skills that take a lot of real-world experience to master. 

But in order to learn these skills, they have to take a lot of missteps. These “missteps” can look like avoiding work, distracting others, or searching out loopholes. This is the “pushback” phase. Which boundaries can I push? How much freedom do I actually have? What will happen when I use my freedoms irresponsibly? Exploring and experimenting with these questions is a natural part of learning how to learn. It’s an essential component of truly seeing and understanding the connection between your freedom and your responsibility, which is critical to taking the reigns as a self-directed learner. 

As a community in our fifth year, I can quite clearly see the trajectory of a young person’s learning journey at The Village School- especially at this time of year. Learners are more comfortable with each other. The studio environment and its rhythm are familiar and predictable. Everyone knows what to expect and can easily navigate the studio systems. 

Look closely and you can see two distinct groups of learners at work in the studio. You can see the group of returning learners who have been through that pushback phase. They have failed, missed deadlines, and experienced the natural and logical consequences of their choices. They see the throughline between their freedom and their responsibilities. They are (for the most part) focused, intentional and disciplined, setting and achieving the goals they set for themselves, contributing to studio life, and kindly and firmly holding themselves and others accountable to their studio promises. 

You can see another group of learners, many of whom are in their first or second year at The Village School, who have not yet been through this phase. They have diligently followed the studio promises. They have tried their best to please the guide, their parents, or other more seasoned learners in the studio. Up until now, they have spent their time getting comfortable in a learner-centered environment. And now that they are in fact comfortable, they are ready to explore the limits of their freedom. These learners are often distracted and bold, or silly and unfocused, pushing back on some of the promises they made in September and seeing what happens. 

It’s important not to miss this part. This is the good part. Each learner will make choices and experience the natural or logical consequences. Some of them will feel good,  (Yay, I earned a badge!) and some of them will feel not so good (Ugh, I kept talking and had to leave the discussion circle). Through experience and reflection, every choice is an opportunity for learning how to learn. It’s what our learning environment is designed for. This is the foundation that will allow them to thrive as self-directed learners in our community and beyond when they set out to navigate the new world we now live in.

These are the skills of a life-long learner. They don’t develop overnight- nothing important really does.

What is Self-Directed Learning?

If you google “Self-directed learning” you will get many different definitions- enough to make your mind swirl. As a learning community, we’ve settled on this definition, as we feel it encompasses our why and mission at TVS the best:

When learners—in the context of an interdependent community of peers, trained educators, and caring adults—choose the process, content, skills, learning pathways, and/or outcomes of learning, with the guidance, accountability, and support of others, in service of finding a calling that will change their communities and the world.

Institute of Self-Directed Learning (From “Self-Directed Learning: A Landscape Analysis“)

There’s a lot packed in this definition. It’s a good one. But what does it really mean? Does it get us any closer to understanding all that self-directed education is? All that it promises? What it actually looks like in practice?

Maybe. But, I think to really understand self-directed learning we have to ask the learners. Earlier this week, as we kicked off a new session of learning and a new year in Discovery Studio, this is exactly what we did. First, we asked: What does it mean to be a self-directed learner?

Then, they were asked: What is the best part of being a self-directed learner?

Finally, learners were asked: What is the hardest part of being a self-directed learner?

I don’t know about you, but seeing self-directed learning through the eyes and minds of the young people who are experiencing it directly, does make me feel closer to understanding what it actually is, what it looks like, and what it feels like.

In regard to what self-directed learning promises, I think their answers speak volumes. In their responses (in addition to what I see every day in the studios), I see and hear young people who exude confidence, self-awareness, a strong sense of personal responsibility and agency, passion, and curiosity- among many other things.

I also see an awareness that the very best things about being a self-directed learner are also the hardest. Freedom and choice are wonderful things, but wonderful things are often found on the flip side of easy. As they say, with great freedom, comes great responsibility.

But of course, just dig a little deeper and our learners could have told you that.

Session 4 “Sneak Peak”

Spark Studio

“Animals, we are doing this for you!”  -Spark Learner

At their end-of-session field trip to a nearby creek, Spark learners were excited to clean up plastic waste in the creek–even if it meant getting their feet wet! In session 4, they will expand on that passion for cleaning the environment and saving animals’ habitats. They will learn about how watersheds work, what kinds of animals live in the creek, and other ways to clean our creeks, bays, and oceans. 

Spark learners will also study the continent of Asia in Session 4. They will explore materials from Asia in the classroom, view videos, and hear stories from the continent, and have the chance to join a Saturday family field trip to the National Museum of Asian Art on February 4. They will also start a weekly science series, where learners do hands-on experiments with evaporation, rainbow making, and color mixing.  

Discovery Studio

This session, Discovery learners will step into the shoes of physicists, working through experiments, testing hypotheses, and completing physics challenges to learn about work and force. Learners will explore the six different simple machines, discovering how each type of simple machine makes everyday tasks easier to perform. They will end the session by learning about Rube Goldberg and making their very own Rube Goldberg machine!

The wonderings Discovery learners have about the animal kingdom will inspire this session’s writing workshop. Kicking it off with a trip to the National Zoo, learners will choose an animal to explore, research and write about. As an extension to their studies, learners will have the option of creating a scientific drawing of their animal to accompany their research. At the end of the session, Discovery learners will share their informative writing projects with an in-house gallery walk exhibit for Spark and Adventure Studios to explore. 

Adventure Studio

“What if, every time I started to invent something, I asked, ‘How would nature solve this?'” – Janine Benyus

Adventure learners will consider this question and more this session as they continue their quest to contribute to solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with nature’s superpower: Biomimicry! Learners will use the expertise they built in Session 3 to continue their exploration of the solutions to some of our planet’s most dire problems that can be found right under our noses – in nature. Learners will take a field trip to the Botanical Gardens to explore examples of biomimicry, interview biologists working in the field of biomimicry from Villanova, UVA, and George Washington University, and create submissions to the Biomimicry Youth Challenge 2023. 

Biology will also inspire the Session 4 Communications Challenge, Biologist Biography. Learners will identify a current biologist whose contributions to their field are worthy of being documented. Learners will consider the great responsibility they have as writers, especially as writers of someone else’s story. Whose stories should we have more of in this world? What stories would make the world a better place? What can we learn about ourselves through the stories of others? 

The Session 4 Exhibition will feature final submissions to the Biomimicry Youth Challenge and inspiring Biologist Biographies. 

Session 3 “Sneak Peek”

Spark Studio

Imagine living in colonial times and the holidays not being so magical. This session, Spark learners will explore the different cultures of the past and take a look at the present through curious detective eyes. Learners will highlight the similarities and differences of the evolving world around them through hands-on activities. Learners will continue their continent of study for this session. Learners will hear more about South America through a guest talk that focuses on Colombia.

Learners will share in the fun with projects that feature snow, trees, and popcorn. Homemade crafts will be made by learners and given as a keepsake to each other. 

Learners will conclude the session by inspiring creativity through poetry and artwork that they will showcase in the studio at our Session 3 Exhibition.

Discovery Studio

“We are not makers of history, we are made by history.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. 

This session Discovery learners will transport themselves through their imaginations to the Ancient Greek city of Athens. Their mission: to complete a series of hands-on challenges and activities that will help them learn as much as they can about life in Ancient Greece. Along the way, they’ll be exploring big questions such as: How important is it to understand how the past has influenced our lives? How does knowing the origin of things impact our understanding of the world? How can understanding the past impact the future? 

Learners will extend their study of Ancient Greece by diving into Greek Mythology. They will explore the role that myths, gods and storytelling had in ancient times and will be challenged to write their own myths during Writing Workshop this session. 

Learners will share what they have learned at our Session 3 exhibition- where guests will be invited to time travel back to an Ancient Greek village!


Adventure Studio

What does velcro, your pillow, and wind turbines all have in common? They were all inspired by nature! 

This session Adventure learners will take a deep dive into the field of Biomimicry to prepare for the Biomimicry Youth Challenge in Session 4. Biomimicry is the study and use of nature as inspiration to design sustainable solutions. Learners will spend time exploring the history of the field, understand how biomimicry presents itself in their everyday lives, and consider the role biomimicry might play in solutions to some of our world’s biggest sustainability challenges. Learners will take on the role of biologists by spending time in nature observing for close looking, determining new curiosities about our local ecosystems, and meeting with scientists in a Biomimicry Lab.   

Learners will also take on the role of Historian and Researcher through the Session 3 DIY Civilization Communications Challenge. Learners will have the opportunity to take a deep dive into one of the exciting topics that have been explored throughout Civilizations this year. Learners will share their research and Big Questions at the Session 3 Exhibition – come ready to be curious about big histories! 

Health and Wellness

One day or day one. It’s your decision.” – unknown

What does it mean to make healthy choices for yourself? What areas of health are going well for you? What would you like to improve?

This session, learners will be exploring what we have learned so far about mental, social, emotional, and physical health. The learners will identify an area of focus, one that they would like to dive deeper into reflecting on, and create a goal for our winter session break. 

Learners will also have an opportunity to create a product of their choice that illustrates or demonstrates the healthy choices they are proud of. 

A Habit of Reflection

Reflection is a key part of our learning design at The Village School. We like to think of it as a habit, embedded into the daily, weekly, and session-long arcs of the school year, rather than an event- something that happens just once or twice a year at student-led conferences or at end-of-year passage presentations.

Daily, our learners have the experience of making choices about their learning. which includes setting their own goals from a menu of options and managing their time. At the end of the day, learners are asked to reflect on their day in the closing discussion. What went well? What didn’t go well? What might you do differently tomorrow?

Weekly, learners check in with guides for formal and informal guide meetings. In these meetings, guides will ask learners a range of questions. How are things going? How are you feeling about your learning? Are you on track to meet your goals? What are some ways you could get unstuck? What could you try instead? What areas (academic, social, etc.) do you need support?

Then at the end of a session, learners complete a written reflection on the experiences and challenges they’ve engaged in over the past 4-6 weeks. As they do this individually, they can draw from all of the practice they’ve had reflecting- as a whole group, in their weekly small groups or “Headrush Huddles” as we call them in Discovery Studio, one-on-one with a guide, and hopefully, through at-home conversations with a parent/guardian.

Through this habit of reflection, we are helping young people process their learning, make connections, and set next steps in a safe, low-stakes way. More importantly, it increases one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal (i.e., self-efficacy), which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.

As educational reformer, John Dewey famously said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on that experience.”

Session 2 “Sneak Peek”

Spark Studio

Spark learners will continue to learn about the cultures of North America and will delve into South America as well. We will immerse ourselves in the fall season, both indoors and out, with fall-themed lessons on the shelf and at Ms. Jenny’s. We will also start our field trips to the library and nearby Madison Manor Park. 

Do you know anyone who has lived in South America and can come in person or virtually to tell us about it? Can you teach us about something that happens in the Fall, perhaps related to farming, festivals, pumpkins, the weather, etc?

Learners will also explore and learn about different types of wildlife and bring their projects to life through collaboration.

Discovery Studio

For this session’s Quest, Discovery learners will step into the shoes of event planners as they plan a community meal for the end of the session. We will explore what makes a gathering meaningful, meet with experts to learn about different aspects of event planning, and work together to research recipes (and allergies!) and identify quantities and costs of ingredients to develop an actionable plan for the meal. 

Discovery learners will work on their persuasive writing skills as they research and write a pitch for a possible field trip next session. After researching and writing a pitch, learners will present their pitches at the end of the session in hopes of convincing their studio mates to vote for their field trip idea. The pitch with the most votes will be our field trip for next session!

Adventure Studio

“Mo’ money, mo’ problems” – Biggie Smalls 

“The money you make will never buy back your soul” – Bob Dillon

“Money changes everything” – Cindy Lauper

“If I had a million dollars, well I’d buy you a house…” Barenaked Ladies

“I don’t need no money, fortune, or fame” The Temptations

Which quote reflects your beliefs about money? Is money the root of all evil, or can money buy happiness? This session learners will uncover what money means to them during the Money & Me Quest. By the end of the sessions learners will understand how to create and manage a monthly personal budget and they will have written a financial philosophy based on what they have learned. 

Learners will have the opportunity to hear from experts in the field of finance through Community Partner Talks and where they will learn about careers in finance and get feedback on their draft budgets, investment choices and personal philosophies. At the end of the session learners will exhibit their final budgets to a panel of personal finance advisors. 

Have money questions? Ask adventure learners for their expertise in a few weeks! 

Health and Wellness

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” – Helen Keller

What relationships are the most important in your life? What makes them important? How do these special people make you feel? What are the key components of healthy relationships? How do these relationships affect our health? Our next session together will focus on healthy relationships.

Learners will also be exploring healthy conflict resolution strategies. Conflict resolution is a normal part of healthy relationships. How can we manage conflict? How can we approach conflict as an opportunity to grow in our relationships? 

We will also take time to explore the relationship that learners have with themselves. They will be challenged to reflect upon who they are and the value that each of them brings to our community. Every learner is an important part of their studio. Our learning environment is built upon the strengths that each of them share. Recognizing their strengths and value to our community will support their most important relationship, the one they have with themselves. 

What do you hope for?

What are my hopes and dreams for the year? What are our hopes and wishes for the studio? What do we promise to each other in order to make these dreams a reality?

These are the questions we start with in Discovery Studio this session. Over the past few weeks, learners have been doing the very important work of identifying the answers to these questions.

First, learners brainstormed some of their personal goals for the year. Some hopes learners shared were:

“I hope I master arithmetic.”

“I hope I get better at reading.”

“I hope I learn more about astronomy.”

“I hope I make new friends.”

A Discovery Learner shares the final draft of their Hopes and Dreams for the school year.

Then, learners were challenged to envision the ideal learning environment- one that would support them in accomplishing their biggest hopes for the year. Some of their ideas included:

“A place where everyone only speaks to each other with kindness, encouragement and truth.”

“A place where everyone is responsible for their actions and their learning.”

“A place that is clean, quiet, cozy, and well organized.”

“A place where everyone always respects and listens to each other.”

“A place where mistakes are accepted.”

These ideas became the beginning of their studio contract. Each week, they get to pitch new ideas, try them out, and then vote on whether they are ready to add them to their studio contract. At the end of the session, they will sign the contract and use it as a reminder of their promises to each other throughout the year.

Ideas in the “Laboratory” are tried out for a week before learners can propose to move a promise to the final contract. So far, two promises have made it to the final contract!

But, as they say, a dream without a plan is no plan at all. The next question Discovery learners explored was- What systems and/or routines are needed to make our hopes and dreams for the year come to fruition?

From here learners were introduced to the three most important systems and routines in Discovery Studio: Daily Goal Setting, Studio Maintenance, and Community Meeting.

These systems provide the structure for learners to be successful and for their big hopes and dreams, both for themselves and for their community, to become a reality!

So- What is it actually like to be a learner in Discovery Studio?

Well, you’ll just have to wait until the end-of-session exhibition to find out. Learners are excited to share all about the special place we call Discovery Studio!

New Year- Same Mission

When our youngest son was four, he loved the act of throwing rocks into the water, by carefully selecting a stone and watching the impact as it hit the water’s surface. He loved seeing the ripples, watching them circle the rock’s point of entry and move outwards, creating small waves in the surrounding water. He could do this for hours.

Now, at age 10, he could still do this for hours- though the task has changed from simply throwing rocks to skipping rocks.

It’s evident to me why he has always loved this so much- the act of throwing a rock into the water. In the sacred space, he is in charge. He chooses the rock, how much force to use, and what direction to throw it. He chooses the pace, how many rocks he throws in a certain period of time, and when to take a break. In the comings and goings of life, the prescriptive nature of childhood, and a largely adult-imposed agenda, my son is captivated by this space that allows him freedom and choice. He has agency over his experience.

When I think of this sweet memory, it always reminds me that is truly what we all want, children and adults alike. We all want the opportunity to impact the world in some way- to see the ripples, the effects of our actions, no matter how big or small the splash. We all want the chance to stand back proudly and think, “I did that.”

This is the magic of self-directed learning- of a learning environment where young people learn by doing and effectively have the chance to see the ripples of their choices and actions.

As we settle into new routines and rhythms this school year, we do so with our mission at the forefront- a mission to give young people agency in their learning so that they can discover what they can uniquely contribute to the world around them.

Every step of the way, they’ll be discovering how powerful they are, as individuals, and as a community. They’ll be making messes, celebrating successes, and constructing deep and meaningful learning.

Again and again, they’ll be making their own ripples in the water and standing back to think, “I did that.”