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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Outstanding Oliverian

As I get down to my last days at The Oliverian School, I feel much like the seniors preparing for graduation and their next steps in life. This moment is, in many ways, reminiscent of the situation I was facing upon my own high school graduation fifteen years ago. Much like I enjoyed my graduation ceremonies punctuated by saying what felt like permanent goodbyes as I moved only two days later, I will be celebrating the end of this school year and the wonderful successes of our seniors next week, then leaving friends and family for an exciting and challenging few years.

Right now, however, I want to focus on this wonderful school. I remember sitting in my favorite chair in the Charleston apartment, interviewing and wondering if high school and intentional experiential education could really blend the way the website and Bessa suggested. I was a bit spacey the day of my interview and therefore stunned a few weeks later when Bessa offered me the job for Summer School. When I left Charleston, this is ultimately where I was headed, for a seven week season. I never imagined I would return a few months later or stay for another year. I was looking forward, specifically, towards the Peace Corps.

Oliverian's catchphrase is A School as Unique as its Students. It is most definitely that. We are a small school with limited outside involvement due to our location. We attract some incredible people as employees and for the most part, students who will be incredible, but have not figured that out yet. Then again, how many teenagers really know how incredible they can be? My time here has been a blend of joy and amazement combined with stress, tears, and frustration. There was even a month this winter where I thought this might be the first job I ever quit.

Looking at everything now, I am so grateful I did not leave early. While downtime pre-Africa might have been nice, nothing compares to Oliverian  in the last two weeks of the year. Being in Northern New Hampshire, winter is brutal here. Finally, in the last two weeks we have begun seeing leaves and with the leaves come flowers! While most places have lost their daffodils already, ours are still blooming. The lilacs are hinting at their arrival and will most likely be perfuming campus early next week. At the end of the lilacs will come the crabapple blossoms in the most incredible shades of pink. Campus is literally the most breathtaking sight in late May.

Equally breathtaking is watching students who, for the most part, struggled to reach the end of the Senior Year. None of our graduating seniors attended the same school for four years. Some of them have taken more than four years to earn that cap and gown.  Most of them had at least one moment where they were unsure whether they would finish high school. Graduation at any school is a special celebration tinged with hope and healthy anxiety for the future. At Oliverian, graduation is this incredible moment when the families and students finally recognize that they have actually made it to this point. The experience is poignant, like all graduations, but it is as if someone has upped the saturation on life, making each emotion, each hug, each celebration more rich than seems naturally possible.

This week, the graduating seniors have completed a huge step towards graduation. Our students design and complete senior projects during their last semester. Yesterday, the each one presented their senior project to the overseeing committee. The projects always provide a wonderful look into what students want to focus their energy on, as they have to design the project themselves and also reflect heavily on the process of completing the project. This year's projects included things like building a campus composter, finding a biological mother, building and placing a reading library at a local coffee shop, murals, and creating a temporary sweat lodge on campus.

Some of my favorite senior projects centered on the idea of community. Sofia created the Oliverian Story Co, an incredibly project that focused on gathering stories from the Oliverian Community and sharing them. I regret that I never got around to sharing a story, however, those that are shared on her website provide a glimpse into the way each one of us has stories to tell. Please take a moment to enjoy some of these stories!

Another wonderful collection of the Oliverian Community came from Nick, who recorded musical performances of students (and occasionally staff) and released a compilation album of Oliverian musicians. The arts as a whole are a huge part of this school and I personally am thrilled to be able to connect through their music with Oliverian and my former students from Africa in the coming years!

Julia's Found Poetry project took Oliverian course descriptions and turned them into creative and amusing poems. Two of my course descriptions were turned into found poetry, both filling me with joy. Julia also gave me a lovely complement after going through all the course descriptions; apparently I write mine at a higher level than most educators! Thanks Julia!

And with these lovely moments, incredible views, and happy thoughts, I prepare to leave what thus far has been my most challenging job. I had no idea when I came here two years ago, the school, its staff, and my students would become such a huge part of my life. Sometimes seven weeks just isn't enough time. 

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