March Retreat: Independence, Trust, and Sexy Gandalf

And there goes another one of the best weekends I have ever had. For all you people who are thinking of joining What’s the Story, let me tell you, this is the best education I have ever experienced. Please hear me out, because this rant really is about something I care about deeply and I genuinely don’t want anyone to miss out on this incredible opportunity.

With rules and regulations around everything, it is hard for schools to really offer independence at a real world level. When one mistake can lead to a lawsuit, school becomes an isolated learning area, where nothing inside the classroom ever leaves. What’s the Story is different. Since this program is an independent project outside of public school, they can offer trust, freedom, and opportunities that regular curriculum cannot keep up with. Throughout this year I have seen and experienced a trust between mentors and students that I have never seen before. From a teacher’s perspective this trust includes giving students hours without monitoring , not hovering over student’s shoulders, loaning expensive equipment out for months, giving students very open instructions with faith that they will come up with something amazing, telling them to go into the world and connect with/interview strangers, offering them opportunities that they would not be able to get anywhere else, and always trusting them to do the right thing. Speaking as a student, I hate it when teachers not only expect something so rigid and exact that they will send it back until the student got it right, but also hang over your shoulder and always assume that we don’t know about the real world, that we live in an isolated place where SCS is the only thing that exists. Let me tell you, I talk in class. I have a problem, but that should not mean that I am look on as a “bad student”, that the teachers assume that I am a trouble-maker that cannot be given any free rein. I fully believe that the reason that students, especially boys, misbehave is because of their peers. Boys can’t care about a subject, cant’ be excited or interested in school, because they will be branded by there “friends”. I love What’s the Story because everyone who comes here wants a new style of education, everyone here loves learning and wants to get away from the normal classroom. I have seen real people, with real, life threatening problems, talk to kids who want to inspire change. No more classroom that prohibits any talk about real world issues, especially ones that might be “inappropriate”. I’m talking about gender identity, abortion, sex, racial discrimination, politics, depression, and other things that students would most likely be told off for talking about. What’s the story accepts that we are mature, accepts that we are adults that not only know about things but also has an opinion and is interested in sharing and hearing thoughts about these things. What’s the story has shown me that education can inspire change and make a positive difference in the world and we, as kids, are capable of doing that.

Let me tell you more about What’s the Story. In the first few months of the year we are asked to research topics that we are interested in. We are given prompts to write and reflect apon, and it was more controlled, there was less independence. We were still figuring out what this program was like, and figuring out what direction we would take, and they were guiding us. Then came the first overnight retreat. There, we pitched our topics and ideas to the rest of the group, and we chose topics that we were interested and passionate about. There was less independence this retreat as well, because they were guiding us in the right direction. We were still given hours as a group to plan and create.

The next phase is to meet as a group on google hangouts every week. Un-monitored, we would plan and talk as a group until our next retreat, where we would then get the media kits, and with them the freedom that I have been talking about. They told us to go into the real world and connect with people, go to events, learn through experience, and interview people. Just think about that. Do you think that private school would ever allow their students to go around the state meeting random people with expensive, borrowed equipment? I didn’t think so. Half way through we arranged a meeting at a coffee shop in Vergennes. Without any teachers, we sat in that shop for 6 hours talking and collaborating as peers. Looking back on that now, I realize how much trust goes into that. Now we have reached the 3rd retreat, and I can see the difference between this one and the first two. We are being given vast amounts of time to just work. The gave us a loose outline of what they expected, but really what they want is for us to come up with the ideas and projects ourselves. I was blown away by how incredible that was.

What kind of person would I recommend this too? Someone who wants to learn. Someone who wants to get away from the normal education, that wants more independence. Someone who is interested in inspiring change in their community, who is open-minded and accepting of everyone. Someone who is sick of people who distract and who ridicule and who wants to be around people who love learning, that are as interested and creative as you. If you are one of those people, like me, then join What’s the Story. You will never regret it.

Nigel Wormser

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