Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Hippy" ain't just for Oregonians...

Let me tell you a little bit about the school I'm working at.

It's awesome.

When I was hired for this contract, I didn't think much about it at the time - it's on Long Island. Outside of Brooklyn, I had never been to Long Island ... and I didn't even realize that Brooklyn was *on* Long Island, until I was informed, and consequently embarrassed by this fact since I have actually been to Brooklyn, and I generally have a great geographic awareness of where I am.

I digress.

So Long Island. Here are the things that I know (or, really, assumed) about Long Island. Please bear in mind that all of my information (or lack thereof) comes directly from movies, books, and/or TV shows.

1. It's a huge suburb of NYC.
2. The Great Gatsby was set here - in "West Egg" (which isn't too far away from where I am...)
3. Det. Elliot Stabler from Law & Order: SVU lives in Queens - admittedly, I didn't realize that Queens was on Long Island until we drove through it to get here. Oops.
4. The Islanders Hockey team calls its home here - though again, I didn't realize this until I got here...truth be told, I don't think about the Islanders ... at all.
5. The Hamptons are here. I knew that before I got here. However, having never been to "The Hamptons," the only context I had for it was some far-off, mythological place that rich people go to on television. For all I knew, it was the Eastern American's equivalent of "Malibu." Though truth be told, I've never actually been to Malibu - for all I know it could be cardboard.
6. Camp Half-Blood is here, somewhere. (See the Percy Jackson & the Olympians book series)
7. There's a large Jewish population.
8. Long Islanders have an accent. (I have no concrete evidence of this, yet)
9. Long Island is less cultured/hip than its Big Brother, Manhattan. (Oh TV, how you generalize!)
10. Long Island, like it's name, is Long. Shocking, eh?

Clearly, I'm lacking some savvy. Pop Culture, you have failed me yet again. I shake my fist at you!

The school that I'm at is nothing like the stereotypes would have led me to believe. Why? Well, because it's unlike any school I've ever seen. Ever. Allow me to illustrate. They have about 35 kids - from ages 4-13 - in total. They have three major buildings: The school (which is about 7 class rooms), the kitchen, and the gym. The kitchen is huge - one class cooks lunch for the rest of the school every day. Everyone eats together, everyone cleans up afterward, and much of the produce/eggs are grown and raised at the school. Yep, they have a chicken coop. With chickens. We met them today, in fact.

The school contracted to have a Shakes & Co. residency every year for eight years. They literally drop everything for this program. The school has no delineated grades ... they meet in groups according to ages - 3-5, 6-11, 12-13 - however there is no hard rule regarding classes and ages - if a student is advanced and mature enough to be in the group ahead, then up they go. If a student needs a bit more time, then they stay. The measurement of success is not through competition and documented achievement, but by honest comprehension and teacher intuition. There is no administration - no principal, superintendent, dean, etc. In fact, several of the teachers are original founders. The school has a declared commitment to working closely with the Native communities on the island, and has also pledged a fierce diversity policy. The older kids are responsible for the younger ones, and are expected to help and foster relationships with them. Art is the core aesthetic in which the school is built; not only does S&Co. have a residency, but there are composers, dancers, writers/poets, puppeteers, and chefs. They older students are in what's called an "Apprentice Class" - which means that these 11-13 year olds are expected to participate in apprenticeships all over the island - at museums, art galleries, nurseries - whatever strikes their interest.

These are the most generous, open-minded, kind, and articulate children I've ever seen - and not in a pretentious or precocious way. They are sincere. And they are kids; not kids trying to be adults. They embrace each other (and us) in a way that I've never quite experienced, and I certainly count myself as incredibly fortunate to share a month within this community.

It's so incredibly cool, it could be West Coast. But the fact that it's here makes it even cooler.

In other news:

We have no toaster. I have, evidently, taken toasters for granted my entire life. Well no more, I say! Toasters deserve respect and applause. Untoasted English muffins are just *not* okay.

I notice that when I miss someone (like my beautiful and amazing girlfriend), I have a habit of clinging to things that remind me of them. For example, I have - two nights in a row - watched the only hockey games I could find on our limited cable - The Blackhawks vs. The Wild, and The Islanders vs. The Avalanche. Do I care about any of these teams? Not in the least. But I watch hockey with my monkey ... and since I can't be with her, I'll be with the hockey. Even if I don't care about the players or the outcome. Oh ... and the English Muffins I mentioned above, were purchased as a breakfast comfort food for the same reason. Yeah. I know.

Snow isn't that cold - but the freaking WIND is. I'm getting a little tired of wind.

My parents and my sister are in London right now. I could have been there with them, but I chose to be here. And while I don't regret my choice in the least, I wish I were riding in the Underground right now; for no apparent reason. Though if given the choice between London and Canada, I'll choose Canada every time.
This blog post is brought to you by:

Organic Milk
The Islander's Hockey Network
Revolutionary Education