The Final Retreat

What’s the Story Vermont. This course has challenged me in ways I didn’t expect to encounter during my high school years, but I’m extremely thankful that I did.

At the beginning of the year, my self-direction skills were bad, to say the least. I’d never been responsible for my learning before, and here I was, in two programs that required me to be the master of my time. I was very enthusiastic to get started, and I was very surprised by the overwhelming amount of time and planning that went into this process. At first, I doubted myself. I asked myself “Will I legitimately be able to produce a quality documentary in this amount of time?” “Can I actually focus and get it done?”. Then, after many meetings with my mentor, Emily, it started to come together. My vision was there, on a whiteboard in front of me. Standing there, looking at the concoction of chaotic scrawling and strange hieroglyphics, something changed. I no longer felt frustrated at myself for scraping ideas and starting over and re-writing so much during the past months. I now understood that what I had previously deemed stuck points and dead ends were actually my own personal creative process. Here, in front of me, was the by-product of confusion, excitement, and anger. I was finally able to see this as more than just work. What I was creating was something I was so, extremely passionate about. From that point forward, the way in which I directed my energy changed drastically. From that accomplishment, I had a newfound sense of motivation and ambition. Over the course of this program, I have learned how to direct my energy in ways that allow me to get work done when I want to do it. This is a skill that I would not have learned if I wasn’t in these programs, and one that I’d undoubtedly need for my life outside of high school. I am so thankful to What’s the Story for giving me the opportunity to explore and understand the ways in which I interact with the world.

Going out into and interacting with the real world was not something that I was familiar with or skilled at before I joined What’s the Story. Through this program, I was given the opportunity to look into the real world and examine what it was like, and how I fit in. By going out into my community, I gained a lot of perspective through the people I talked to, and I found that it was much easier to interact with people than it is in my daily life. At the end of it all, I felt like I gained much of the social skills I’ll need in order to be more successful when I leave high school. With the skills I gained, I now feel that I can handle myself in social settings that I am unfamiliar with, and I found that my interviewing skills and etiquette have greatly increased.

While creating my documentary, I had to use a lot of informed and integrative thinking to bring it all together. I had to work to convince students that alternative education is actually an option, and that it actually works. Therefore, I had to prove it. I had to make sure that I had evidence to support each idea that I presented in my documentary. This took a lot of thinking, and a lot of planning. I feel that before that experience, I was someone who saw the big picture more than the small, specific details. I was someone who would go through with something without fully thinking about what it entailed. Now, I feel that I am much more skilled at zooming in as well as zooming out. I now feel that I put a lot more thought into the details and recognize when something may not work as well as I want it to. In addition to this, the skills I learned here also helped me to identify which footage to keep, and which to delete. I had to really closely analyze my film and pick and choose what really added to my message and brought up new and insightful points, and which clips had to go. The skills that I learned in this area are ones that I am fairly sure I wouldn’t have gained before college, and I’m very thankful that I can use these moving forward.

At the beginning of this year, effective communication was foreign to me. I was really, really horrible at it. The most I had to do was e-mail my teachers if I was out sick or if I had a question. Now, I was faced with updating not one, but two blogs every week with updates about my projects and the progress I was making. I was tasked with scheduling interviews and meetings. I was tasked with crafting e-mails to be articulate and concise. I loved every minute of it. I learned an insane amount about communication through this experience, and I learned how to do it often and effectively. I learned how to be a better writer, how to be a better speaker, how to better craft e-mails, how to properly conduct a phone call asking someone for an interview. I learned how to present myself to the world. I cannot stress how big of a deal this was for me. It is something that will serve me extremely well in the years to come and I really can’t believe how much I learned about clear and effective communication in just one school year.

At one point early on during this course, I was really stuck. I didn’t blog about it, I didn’t go and talk to anyone about it. I tried to work it out myself, because that’s what I had always done, and I was convinced that it’d keep working, time and time again. When it came time for my weekly meeting with Emily, we sat down, and she asked me why I hadn’t had any blog posts, and why I wasn’t giving her any updates. My first thought was “Oh god, I’m in trouble. I’m going to fail this course because I can’t get it together.” So, I went on to explain that I was at a stuck point and I promised that I’d get out of it soon. I just needed a little more time. She went on to make the point that, even if you’re stuck, no matter where you are, you need to communicate that to people. She made it clear that if you’re stuck, great. That’s totally fine. But, you have to tell people about it. You have to say to people “Hey everyone, I’m really stuck on this right now and I need some help.”

That alone changed so much for me. It made me realize that I can’t work through everything alone. It made me realize that I do in fact need to ask for help, and that there’s nothing wrong with getting stuck. It made me appreciate the chaotic, messy, tangled web of thoughts that carry me through my everyday life. It made me not care about having things ready and perfect and presentable. It showed me that I could show people the messiest of thoughts and as long as I could explain to people where I was in the process of completing the thought, I’d be completely okay.

Overall, this course has changed my life and in a lot of ways shaped my future. I will definitely be applying for next years cohort, and I truly couldn’t be more excited to release the culmination of months and months of work to the outside world.

Maddie Parker

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