From January 2017

2017 Story Writing Intention

I believe stories can be the next powerful tool to help normalize self-directed education. I realize that the students at ALC still read books and watch movies where school learning look very different than what we do. They want to play school at ALC, and sometimes, they worry that they aren’t doing what other kids are doing. I imagine that being a student in a small self-directed school is more challenging when you see kids in just about every other media outlet doing something different than you.

Where are the examples of children powerfully navigating their lives in a self-directed education model? Where are examples of children sharing their intentions for their day or week, choosing to learn about whatever they are interested in? If the only examples they get from movies and books are of kids sitting through classes to learn, then the kids are getting the message reinforced that this is what learning looks like. Imagine the confusion of reading and seeing this example, and then going to a school where the adults are telling you that this is not the case, that learning can be different.

So, for 2017, I want to embark on a story writing journey. I want to focus my writing on stories, on sharing some actual stories from Mosaic, but also writing fiction pieces that are just written for entertainment – but all the kids will be in a self-directed education model.

I may not be an incredible writer, and that’s ok. I want to write anyway. Maybe someone reading will be an incredible writer and they will write better stories involving children who self-directing their education.

I have built a page here where I will compile my stories in one place, so readers don’t need to hunt through my blogs for them. Enjoy if you wish!

Tuck Everlasting ALC Fan Fiction

Last year I wrote a fan fiction piece during Writer’s Workshop with the students. I only shared it with a few of the kids, who either loved the story or thought it was very weird. I’m sharing it now to share with the ALC Community my 2017 Story Writing Intention. Currently, I am working on a longer fiction piece, one that will have all made up characters and is inspired by The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe from the Narnia series.

I had Alona’s permission to write using her as a character, but she had no idea what I was going to do to her in the story! I hope you enjoy it.


**If you have read Tuck Everlasting you will have a better understanding of what is happening in the story. This is a fan fiction spin off.**

I looked at the small spring of water, my mouth feeling dry and parched. I could almost feel the cool water trickling down my throat. Hesitantly, I reached out to touch it. Just touching it couldn’t have an effect on me, I thought. Yet, at the very last second, just millimeters from the glassy surface of the water, my hand froze, then I withdrew it.

This was not any ordinary spring. This was not any ordinary day. I stood here with the opportunity only one other person on this planet has ever had, the opportunity to experience immortal life.

I thought the story of the Tuck family was just a story. I read the book and watched the movie just like so many other children out there. It was made-up, fiction. Right? Wrong.

I found my mind wandering back to the day I met the Tucks. They were so curious about ALC and were eager to enroll their 15 year old son, Jesse. Now Jesse has been a student at our ALC for over two years. I could always sense a wisdom in his eyes that was well beyond the “17” years he claimed to be. Had it not been for the bond between Jesse & Alona, I would have never found out the family secret.

See, Jesse was Jesse Tuck. From the book Tuck Everlasting. The supposedly fiction book that has sold 2 million copies. For all these years, the Tucks had quietly hidden from the public, transforming their lives every few years, always on the move. The longest they ever stayed in one place was 5 years. After that, they had to leave or their secret would be out. They are immortal. Never aging, trapped, suspended in bodies that never change.

Sometimes they lived for years hidden in some remote off-the-grid house, living off the land and away from civilization.

Eventually, Jesse would either erupt with anger over the tedium and sameness of the remote living. The family would pick a town to move to and enroll Jesse as a very tall 15 or 16 year old so he could have three to five years of making friends and a “normal” life. But in the end, it was always the same thing: leaving, saying goodbye to everyone he knows, never to see them again. He would send them letters, and then as cell phones were invented, texts or emails, but always with the intention to slowly fade away and out of their lives forever.

Two years ago, our ALC was where Jesse ended up. He had never experienced a school like ours before and was full of questions. He loved the freedom to choose what he wanted to do and learn each day. I mean, think about how many trigonometry and P.E. classes he has had to endure each time he re-enrolled in school! Here, he was free to explore any interest of his choice, with other people who were excited to explore those interests too. He also had ample time to do what he actually wanted to do: make friends. That was the actual reason he would drag his family out of the safety of rural living. The loneliness was unbearable.

Within a week of joining us, it was clear that he and Alona were going to be great friends. He loved to write fiction and learn about biology. He had so many stories to tell from his 200+ years of living. He also had extensive experience treating animals without any medication. For during their time living remotely, there were no vets to visit on account of a sick pet or upon finding an injured wild animal. Therefore, he learned different ways to communicate with animals to understand them, as well as how to identify hundreds of wild plants that could be used to treat their injuries and ailments.

Alona, of course, was fascinated by his knowledge of healing. When Buns fell ill during the early weeks of Jesse’s arrival at ALC, Jesse quickly identified an iron deficiency and fetched some weeds outside for her to eat. Within a day, Buns was happy and energetic again. After this experience, Alona and Jesse were inseparable as they feverishly explored animal biology and healing, learning from and with each other. Alona also had years of research behind her, despite her young age. Combined, the knowledge they had of animals was remarkable.

At that time Alona was 15, and so was Jesse…supposedly. Of course two years later Alona was a full grown 17 and Jesse still looked exactly the same! He would joke that he hit his growth spurt early and that explained why he never grew taller or filled out more.

As Alona excitedly filled out college applications, encouraging Jesse to pick the same college or one near her top choices, inside Jesse was in agony. This was the best two years he had experienced in the last two centuries! To say goodbye to all of us now and go back into hiding again felt unbearable to him. For those who know Jesse’s story in the embellished, and what I thought, fictional, story, he lost gaining a forever friend and potential wife when Winnie Foster refused to drink from the spring of water that granted immortality. Jesse has long wanted a friend, a partner to share his life with before Winnie and ever since. His shared passions and deep friendship with Alona was too much to bear losing. His family felt his despair and his mother, Mae, was pushing for the family to leave soon before it became even harder for him to cut ties.

Again, for those who have read the Natalie Babbit version of Tuck Everlasting, you may have thought the spring was forever lost after builders developed the land and covered it with a concrete jungle. After almost being discovered during the Winnie Foster brush-in, Mae reached out to Winnie to spread a rumor that the spring was located in her family woods as described in the book. Then the true location of the spring would be forever hidden. Winnie told the tale to her children and friends as an urban legend, a fairytale of sorts, and eventually it was published in Babbit’s book as fiction. By convincing others this was made up, their secret was safe from the world.

Jesse wanted Winnie to join him in immortal life, yet Winnie could not do it. When faced with the decision, she realized all the implications that came with immortal life: including always watching death, but never experiencing it. It meant isolation and loneliness, as Jesse knew. It meant hiding your truth from the outside world. It meant constantly moving, never settling down.

Over the centuries of living, Jesse had wished many times to die, but immortal life was forever his curse. When faced with the realization that he would have to say goodbye to ALC and his closest friend, Alona, he snapped. He did the unthinkable. And then I became involved.

You see, a week ago, one week before the end of Alona’s last year at ALC, Jesse asked us to go on an end of the year camping trip. Since neither of them had cars yet, I was requested to be the driver, (and also for fun as I am a good friend to the both of them). “One last hurrah together as members of ALC,” Jesse proposed. Alona and I were excited to go, calling it their ALC graduation party.

Yesterday, we arrived at the campsite. Jesse directed us, saying he wanted us to go to his favorite camping spot. Without using GPS, he navigated me to the mountain by car. Without any map, he led us on a 4 hour hike to a remote campsite. He obviously knew this area like the back of his hand.

Yesterday, mine and Alona’s lives were still normal. Yesterday, Alona was still a mortal being.

If Jesse could be killed, I might have been angry enough to kill him for what he did! This morning, while I made breakfast, Alona and Jesse went for a walk to check out what wild edibles grew in the area. I was so calm and peaceful as I scrambled eggs and fried up turkey bacon. I remember humming “Lean On Me” as I cooked, one of my favorite songs. I was interrupted by the sound of hysterical sobbing and crashing in the woods. I looked up to see Jesse’s tear soaked face emerging from the brush nearby.

“Jesse, what happened?” I tried to remain calm, but my heart felt heavy and my eyes searched frantically for Alona. I didn’t see her anywhere.

“I…I…I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry,” he choked out between sobs.

“Jesse, where is Alona? What happened?” I asked, my concern growing.

“I…,” another giant sob bursted out, “just follow me.”

I followed Jesse through the woods, my heart pounding in my ears. He took me to a big tree with the small tide pool of water shimmering between its roots, and there Jesse told me everything, his past, is life, about it all.

On their hike that morning, Jesse led Alona to the tree. He wanted to ask her to drink from the pool and have immortal life alongside him, in hopes that his loneliness would end. Once they reached the pool, Alona ran over and drank from it, unaware of what this pool of water was or Jesse’s story. It was hot and she was thirsty. Through sobs, Jesse admitted that there was time to stop her, but he hesitated. He wanted her to drink it. He was worried that if he stopped her, and then asked her to drink from it, she would say no. So he didn’t stop her.

However, immediately after she drank it, Jesse realized his terrible wrongdoing. How would Alona ever forgive him? He robbed her of choice – choice in a matter that is life-changing. After letting her drink, Jesse dropped to his knees and told her everything. Alona slapped him in the face and then ran off in the woods. Jesse thought she must have been trying to get back to camp to find me. Still in shock over his grave mistake, it took Jesse a few minutes to get up and go after her. Unfortunately, it looks like Alona got lost in the woods trying to find me.

“Jesse, you know these woods well, right?” I asked.

“I know every nook and cranny. Every branch, every rabbit hole.”

“Go. Go and try to look for her in the woods. I think I need to stay near the camp in case she does find her way. I’ll find our whistle and blow it. I hope she hears it.”

Jess ran off. And now here we are back to the beginning of this story:

I looked at the small spring of water, my mouth feeling dry and parched. I could almost feel the cool water trickling down my throat. Hesitantly, I reached out to touch the water. Just touching it couldn’t have an effect on me, I thought. Yet, at the very last second, just millimeters from the glassy surface of the water, my hand froze, then I withdrew it.

Of course I don’t want immortal life. Right? I remember thinking about this when I read the book when I was younger. I remember thinking about what I would do in Winnie Foster’s place and knew I would do the same thing. Immortal life is not a gift, it’s a curse.

But a part of me is still curious. What would it be like? Never aging. I’d be thirty-two forever. I could have children and live to see their great-grandchildren. I think I could even convince people I was as young as 25 and then live in one place for over a decade without having to move. That’s an advantage I would have over Jesse, thankfully I wouldn’t be frozen at an age that looks so young. I would be treated as an adult.

But what about my government ID? I would have to get fakes after a time because when I’m 60 I can’t keep my same birthdate on my current ID! Logistically, immortality would be quite complicated. I have no idea where I’d even get a fake ID. However, the Tucks have managed, I’m sure they have figured something out.

Can I even imagine outliving my family? My husband, my children? That would be hard. I couldn’t imagine re-building a new family after my current one had passed away.

Wow, this is now Alona’s fate. She has to be thinking of all this right now, too.

Deep breath in. This is not an option for me. Unless…

Unless Tomis would drink it too. This is what Jesse feels! What he did was terribly wrong, but his loneliness and desire to have a partner join him in his immortal fate drove him to those few seconds of hesitation that has forever changed Alona’s life. Perhaps Alona will recover from her shock, and probably anger, and come to find excitement and happiness in her new fate alongside Jesse.

The End

Change up Change Up

The title is a sentence, not a repetitive title! The following is a story from our last Change-Up meeting, re-told a couple days later so know it’s from my perspective and memory, and there may be parts I fill in from imagination to make the story flow. An example of this is filling in specific words said when there is no recording of the exact phrasing. In these cases, I strive to portray the integrity of what was said or meant, rather than caring to know the exact phrasing of words used. There’s also the possibility that I confuse later conversation into the ones from the moment of the story due to memory mix up. Finally, for those in pictures, I will change the names of the kids for their privacy. 

Knowledge that is helpful to know before reading is that we’ve changed up Change Up a little this year. There are times where it only takes 20 minutes to go through the Community Mastery Board, so we spend the other part of the hour doing some type of Community Connection – a game, an activity, a discussion, a group challenge or a practice that helps us bind as a community. For this Change Up meeting, participating in a group challenge (within smaller groups) was the activity presented.

 


 

“I can’t hear anything, how am I supposed to do this?” Marcy cries out in frustration, after asking a group of boys nearby to be quieter.

“Hm, I see it feels really challenging for you focus on what you’re doing when the room is so loud. The noise level is challenging for me too. I see that the other kids are also trying their best to so speak and hear each other, and there are probably ways this activity could have been set up differently. I’m sorry, Marce.” I respond, genuinely appreciating the enthusiasm of the kids who are being loud while also really empathizing with how the set up is challenging for her to participate in the way she really wants to. The activity is really fun, and most of the kids are pretty excited to do it.

The room is loud and cluttered with the bodies of children, blocks, blankets and boards. I listen.

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“Okay, so take the longest rectangle block and put it sideways on the ground, so it’s right in front of you. Like if you are sitting criss-cross applesauce, the block is sideways just like your leg is.”

“Now take the red block – you’ve got two left, right? Okay, put it so it’s make a cross with the yellow one on top of that castle piece, that one that’s like a cylinder, ok?”

“Put the block so it runs like a path from you to me, along the ground in front of the tower. Make sure it touches the bottom of the arch piece.”

I look back at Marcy, who is trying to so hard to hear Shawn’s instructions on where to place her blocks. Rena, Marcy’s partner, has moved closer to the white board that divides them from Shawn and Jennifer so she can hear better. She’s repeating the instructions given so Marcy can feel included and can participate in recreating the block tower that Shawn and Jennifer made. Their challenge is to build structures with blocks and then explain to another group how to build it verbally. The other group is behind some type of barricade so they cannot see the structure that was made. They just have to listen to the explanation given and recreate it.

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I walk over to Melissa. “Isn’t it fascinating to observe this? I feel like I am seeing their personalities come alive, seeing their differences and how they respond, describe, and engage! Like, how when Andrew and Gabe first described their structure to Luke and Ayan, they said told them to take all of their blocks and build a wall. So the two walls were completely different. But how Caleb jumped in right away to describe every single block in detail and give very clear, step by step instructions. Both sets of kids given the same instructions, and both carried out in completely different ways!”

Melissa chuckles, “I know, it is really interesting. But have you noticed how Gabe and Andrew’s group have become more detailed in their description since?”

I look over and see that Luke and Ayan are now giving instructions and that the towers being built are similar in appearance from other side of the barricade.

“Can you guys PLEASE be quieter?” Marcy interrupts my observation, and I can see in her face she is thoroughly exhausted from the mental exertion it takes for her to hear their instructions in separation from the background noise. The other nearby group is engaged in their challenge and communicating through the noise. It doesn’t seem to bother them to be in a loud room.

“This is really hard for Marcy,” I say to Melissa.

She nods, “Yeah, and do you notice how Evan isn’t even participating? He would have probably been able to engage if it was just him on one side of the barricade and just one other person on the other. Working in a group like this, in this setting, is not easy for him.”

“Totally. I feel like we can learn a lot from this experience.” We both drift away from each other as we continue to listen and observe.

“Nancy, we’re done, can we do it again?” Caleb calls out, this activity seems to be well suited for his strength in articulation and explanation. I noticed this right away, he is really adept at voicing his thoughts and this task is right up his alley.

I walk over to the group to address all four of them, “So how would you like to take all your blocks into the cloud room and try again? I think Marcy might like to experience the block challenge in a different setting.”

“Yes!” she exclaims, “Thank you! That would be so helpful!” The group members gather their materials and run off.

The challenge continues as Melissa walks over to me and says, “Now wouldn’t this be really funny to do with spouses? We should invite parents to come in and try this, it would be a real test of communication!”

“Oh my goodness, that would be funny to see,” I chuckle. I look around and notice that groups are finishing up, “Oh, how about you and Tomis do the challenge together! Then the kids can see how adults fare at this.”

“What, you don’t want to do that with him?” Melissa asks.

“Ha! Let’s try just two grown ups before we jump into the spouse challenge,” I laugh as I respond.

A group of four boys have finished their challenge, and Tomis and Melissa take over their station. Tomis builds a structure and then the descriptions begin. Slowly but surely, a crowd of children form around them.

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“Okay, so you see the small piece that has indents on one side, like a castle?” Tomis asks.

“The castle turret?” Melissa responds.

“Well not the cylinder, but the really small piece that has the indents on one side.”

“Oh I think I have it. I think you mean the piece that looks like a Pacman ghost.” She does have the correct piece in her hand, the rest of us could see this from our view point of both sides.

“Okay, so put it on top of the cube piece with the windows, but put it so the ridges are facing you, you see how one side has ridges? Put it so the ridges are facing you.” Tomis explains.

Melissa looks confused. From where I stand, it seems so clear the confusion, and hilarious! His vocabulary changed, and she’s examining the side for ridges, and the indents are facing down, so the piece literally looks like a Pacman ghost. He wants her to lie the piece so the Pacman ghost is laying on its side, feet facing sideways.

“Do you understand?” Tomis takes Melissa’s silence for confusion, which is totally correct.

“No.”

He continues with another explanation that is not understood, and finally Melissa just says, “Okay, I think I have it, what’s next.”

I look at the faces of the kids, they are whispering to each other and trying not to laugh. I turn around so they don’t see me trying to hold back laughter as well, I don’t want to give Tomis a clue that Melissa needs more explanation.


We gather in a circle after everyone wraps up to discuss the activity.


I look around at the kids and ask, “So I’d love to hear from you, what did you think of doing this activity? Was it fun? Was it challenging? What was easy? What was hard? For the sake of being able to hear all voices, let’s practice hand-raising for this sharing.”

I sit comfortably in the silence, giving anyone who wants to share time to do so.

A couple hands then go up and I call on them to share.

“It was really fun.”

“It was hard to hear.”

“Can we do it again?”

“I thought it was interesting to see what people would make from our description. I also didn’t realize how hard it would be to follow the instructions given.”

“I am glad I was allowed to ask questions. If I couldn’t ask questions, I don’t think I would be able to do it.”

I call on myself to share my own observation, “I found it interesting that some people describe using more imagery and others are more about describing the shape, like Melissa’s Pacman ghost. If Tomis described the shape as a ghost, she would’ve understood how to place it.” I pause, and then pose another question, “Why do you think Melissa and I proposed this activity for today’s Community Connection time during Change Up?”

“To help us with communication skills.”

“So we can practice working together.”

“To have fun.”

Rena’s hand goes up and I call on her. “I think it’s an empathy practice. It was really fascinating to me to describe something, to say all the words that I know mean putting the block the way I have it, but then seeing that someone else interpreted those words differently. I can see how someone else understands those words, and how it’s completely different than what I meant.”

I am floored at her insight. “Rena, I didn’t even think about this being an empathy practice, wow. I’m so grateful for you sharing this perspective! Your description of this reminds me of many times in my life when I have said something to another and then later realize how it was received was completely different than what I intended.”

I see some nods around the room. Marcy raises her hand and adds, “It’s really interesting to see how you can describe how to put a block, and your description is right, but that when someone puts it down, how they put it is right too based on the description. But it’s different than how you put it!”

“You all have added so greatly to the value of doing an activity like this! I was thinking it was a neat brain activity, one that challenges you to use your articulation skills and your listening skills and you all have shown me it helps us practice even more than that. I like that it’s also hands-on so you get to feel kinetically, and of course you are using your eyes as well. You’re coordinating so many different skills that your brain has to really work. Our brains contain so many different neural pathways, and it’s a healthy practice to challenge it to do fire neurons in many different ways. That’s how we work out our brain. It needs work outs just like our muscles do. That’s why I think it’s healthy to try new things when I can, so my brain can work out.” I get up and do some brain gym movements that we’ve done at school before and continue, “And these movements also help our brains work out differently because you need coordination skills to do them.”

Then Liberty raises her hand to speak, and I call on her. “How come we aren’t doing regular change up?”

I look at the clock. It’s five minutes to three, whoops. I intended to only do this activity for the first 20 to 30 minutes as our Community Connection, but then to have Change Up meeting as normal afterwards. We never went through any of the items on the Change Up board.

“I lost track of time, Lib, I’m sorry. I did mean to go through the board but I was having too much fun with the activity and the discussion. I guess I didn’t want to stop it and it seemed like most of the group was happy to keep doing the activity too.” I pause and hear some “yeah’s” and nods, especially from the kids that I know do not like Change Up meeting. I make gesture toward the Change Up board and say, “This board is really useful for some things. It is helpful to make community agreements and see how we are doing. But I think it’s important to do more than talk about the culture we are doing, but to actually come together and create the culture we want by doing something together. It challenges us to interact as a community, to see each other, to learn how to communicate with one another, and so I think that spending this hour with a mixture of a game, activity, challenge and then sometimes reviewing the board is a healthy compromise.”

Tomis raises his hand, and he adds, “I agree, and also, the culture here has grown to a point that we probably don’t need to have regular change up meeting every week. Perhaps we do something like this every other week for the whole hour and only go over the board every other week, we can talk about that at the next Change Up meeting.” The kids really perk up at this. This statement is a huge compliment and accomplishment. We’ve worked hard as a group to grow to a point where conflicts don’t take up most of our time, but the pursuit of our interests, passions, hobbies, and play do.