True Grit: A Visiting Educator’s Impressions of Eagle Rock

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Editor’s Note: The author of today’s post, Erika Lowe, is an educator in Burlington, Vermont. This year she is serving as the Community Based Learning Fellow for Partnership for Change, an initiative to transform Burlington and Winooski High Schools to better serve the needs of all learners. Learn more at the Partnership for Change website or follow the Partnership on Twitter at @partnershipvt.

By Erika Lowe, Community Based Learning Fellow – Partnership for Change

Ten years ago I abandoned California public education to teach in Vermont. I could no longer justify teaching in overcrowded classrooms where students spilled into hallways, at schools where arts and physical education programs no longer existed, in a state that spends more on incarcerated prisoners than on educating students. I did not have the grit to sustain teaching in a system where I had little control.

So it came as no surprise to me when I met a high school student from Los Angeles at the Eagle Rock School in Estes Park, Colorado. Leslie grew up just 10 minutes from where I was raised in Los Angeles. Like me, the L.A. public school system did not work for her. Eagle Rock offered her a second chance. What I did not expect was that she intended to return to her public school system with the knowledge and tools to create change.

Eagle_Rock_Professional_DevelopmentLeslie told me she volunteered at a Waldorf preschool two days a week. Not only did she volunteer, but she used her experience for action research. Leslie was intrigued that Waldorf Schools were originally established to serve the children of factory workers, the irony being that today, only the privileged can take advantage of a Waldorf education. She recognized the inequity of this situation, yet she knew she could apply Waldorf practices and values to public education.

She noted, “I know I can’t change the whole system, but I want to learn what I can from Waldorf education and bring that back to my community. Maybe I can share what I’ve learned and help get a program off the ground in a school that will help make a difference.” Leslie learned values I never had the opportunity to learn as a new teacher in California: grit, persistence and development of an open mindset.

Leslie’s determination and maturity inspired me. Here was a young high school student who wanted to return to her community to help the very same school system that had failed her. I have spoken to many other students who intend to return to their communities and create change. I marvel at the selfless nature of these teenagers.

Professional development at Eagle Rock is unique. All visitors participate in the community during visits. I traveled to Eagle Rock with two-dozen members of the Partnership for Change, a unique organization consisting of school and community stakeholders working together to transform Burlington and Winooski High Schools (VT) to better serve the needs of all learners. We attended all of Eagle Rock’s morning community gatherings, ate with students, visited classes and had a chance to listen to students’ stories.

Eagle_Rock_Professional_Development_PictureWe also spent the week observing proficiency based classrooms and talking with teachers and students about how this learning system worked to offer flexible pathways to support the needs of all learners. Michael Soguero, the director of professional development, led our team through four main protocols: positive deviance, success analysis, appreciative inquiry and asset-based observations. He shared tools with us that help “make change stick.”

Soguero helped us identify assets at Burlington and Winooski High Schools and envision how we might overcome obstacles faced in our schools. By the end of the week, we launched plans for eight projects to help move our proficiency based learning initiative forward.

Eagle Rock School is a model for student engagement. It lives and practices its mission: We exist for all learners. I find myself thinking about this statement and Eagle Rock students like Leslie, who continue to inspire me as the new school year begins. I look forward to supporting the Partnership for Change as we seek new ways to engage and support all learners, so that every student has the grit, persistence and confidence to create a better world.

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