March Retreat- A Whole New Perspective, or, A Changed Life

In my life, the life of Theo Wells-Spackman, a 9th grader from Middlebury, there have been numerous educational experiences. Most of them have been good, and some have been better than others. I have written argument essays, stories, narratives, and poems, and they have all benefited me in some way, but in this past year I have taken part in an experience that is perhaps the most beneficial class I have ever taken: What’s the Story .

What’s the Story  is like no other class I have seen or heard about.  In the class, the goal is to make change, and  you function within a fairly free environment, in the sense that you are mostly guided by the decisions of your group (assisted by your mentor) throughout the course. There are, of course, meetings with the whole class and teachers periodically, at which much self-reflection and more guided activities are performed. Particularly at the beginning, you are given all the directions you need to make a great deal of progress.

During the first weeks of the course, you are given instructions to find a topic you think is interesting, and research it. Each week, a blog is assigned for you to record your research on. For me, finding a topic was easy. In my home, gender has always been a prominent topic, and after deciding to research it, I became profoundly interested in the field. After several weeks of research, you come together with the group to find a common interest, which you can move forward with.  For me, I was lucky to find many people who were interested in gender studies and changemaking in that area, so I could find a small group of people who were eager to move in the same direction as me.

After the social action teams have been formed, there is a process of carefully setting goals for the group to accomplish by a certain date. For me and the team I was working with, this meant refining our topic and making it more specific than the topic of gender is schools. We had no idea what the level of understanding was at our school or throughout the state, which we needed to know about to create change in the most practical way. So what we did was create a survey to circulate throughout our school to test the general knowledge of gender issues. After reading the survey, it was clear that many people were not able to recognize gender bias, especially in subtle (or “implicit”) forms, so that became our focus. Over the next several months, there is a general set of directions and several whole-class meetings in order to guarantee that everyone has the necessary knowledge to operate the camera and conduct the interviews to do research for the final product, which is usually a short documentary about the topic you choose. This product is your media for the creation or change.

After six months of research, my group is now in the process of creating that media, as well as preparing for a presentation at the Global Issues Network event in Rutland less than a month from now. We are in the act of making change, through telling people’s stories, and through learning ourselves. I have learned an incredible amount from What’s the Story,  through my group, other people in the class, and through the vast amount of research that I got to do on a topic I really care about. Whether it is about gender, or any other topic, I learn something everyday from What’s the Story. 

So, if you’re interested in making a difference and pursuing a topic you’re really interested in, I cannot recommend enough that you apply to What’s the Story. It is very challenging, and very rewarding, giving you a whole new perspective, or two, or three, of the topic you work on. In short, What’s the Story will change your life, as much as you allow it to.

Theo Wells-Spackman

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