Friday, November 30, 2012

Flying By

Gotta get down on Friday.

Two days since my last post, and so much has happened for the school. Lovely donations coming in from EcoFoil, and La Petite's trailer for her tiny house is finished and ready for the framing to begin again, much love and thanks to Howard's Wrecker Service in Smyrna, Georgia. They tow, they do bodywork - they take care of their community).

Quinn made us some amazing homemade tagliatelle, Ella finished the blueprints for her chicken coop, we searched around for some chickens to incubate (dream set here; donations welcome!), and Will has made good strides on his go-kart. Oh, and we spent $38,000 in one day.

This week has flown by, and every day has been filled with chatter, laughter and conversation. It is hard to explain the flow of our days, how the kids move around the school and each other, how conversations that would be cut off in the normal flow of a traditional school day become long meandering roads of discovery, opinions, argument and new insight. Our days fly by in a flurry of activity, and sometimes they fly by in a flurry of play. Both are amazing to be a part of.

Lots of work ahead, and we are all so ready to do it. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If You Only Ever Watch One Video...

...this should be it.

I admit, I ignored it for a while. I thought it was a hoax or spam. Finally, a parent told me about it today, so after all the kids left I sat down and watched.

I ended the video with tears in my eyes. Imagine the courage and willpower it took for this person to do what he did. Imagine all of the people around him who said he couldn't do it. Imagine falling on your face, literally, hundreds of times.

Now imagine getting back up, hundreds of time. Imagine feeling how much every joint ached, seeing the scorn in people's faces, and doing it anyway. Imagine changing your life so completely that you go from being practically immobile and trapped in a wheelchair to doing whatever you can imagine a body physically doing. Imagine that all it takes is the doing of it, and faith in yourself.

Imagine that.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Something Shocking

Sometimes my students shock me. Seriously. I have ridiculously high expectations for them, and I pretty much say yes to anything, so you would think that I am often disappointed (high expectations + ginormously ambitious project = set up for debilitating failure). I am also asking everyone who enrolls in HoneyFern from a traditional school (kids and parents) to wrap their head around a new way of thinking; generally public school students struggle with the freedom and responsibility part of HoneyFern, as well as my utter disdain for multiple choice tests and other similarly useless projects like posterboards and dioramas (homeschooled students tend to "get it" a little faster.). It is a tough transition to go from teachers handing you a worksheet and assigning the whole class a project to a teacher who works more as a mentor and a guide, helping you sort through your dreams and figure out which one to pursue, and how.

So imagine my surprise when a student, given the choice between taking the easy way out (me designing his entire curriculum for him, following general, standardized guidelines) and the hard way out (following through with his commitment to his project that he selected and designed), the student chose the hard way, the one that held infinitely more reward for him but also offered exponentially more challenge (and sometimes in a frustrating way). I am so proud today that as I write this, I almost get a little teary. He gets it. He understands the value of persistence and perseverance, and he is a changed student from the first of the year.

I won't name him or go into detail; he is one of the students who will be leaving next year for high school because of sports, so he could have easily just given up and blown it off, done the minimum to get by. But he didn't. And for that simple reason, I have a ginormous surprise for him on December 20th, right before our winter break. Stay tuned for pictures of a flabbergasted kid.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What Should Children Read?

Oh, my goodness. This is the silliest question ever. The new Common Core Standards believe that 70% of what students read in high school should be non-fiction, and this has many people up in arms about this proclamation, claiming that this will kill Shakespeare (again) and bore children to tears with manuals and memos as their primary texts.

So what's the real answer?

Everything. They should read everything. Street signs, bumper stickers, cereal boxes, trashy magazines, literature, the newspaper, internet memes, comics, manga, sports programs, subtitles, credits, captions, manuals, emails, text messages...

You name it, they should read it.

When kids are learning how to read, the ones who are exposed to a wider variety and frequency of environmental print do better; they learn more quickly, and they understand better the functions and sounds of all of those lines, squiggles and dots. As kids move from learning to read to reading to learn (in and around the 3rd or 4th grade, in the absence of any learning issues or exceptionalities), this foundation with language and familiarity with all of its uses helps them to understand what they read more.

Essays, editorials, letters, poetry, reports, primary source documents, biographies, summaries, personal narratives...

Everything. They should read everything. In middle school, the hardest age to get most kids to read, the focus should be on letting them read whatever they want for pleasure, requiring them to sit down and read for a set period a day, every day, whatever they want, gradually introducing other forms in class (or whatever schoolish configuration you use) and connecting them as much as possible to their world and the reading they enjoy. It's like fishing. Don't bait the hook with a brussel sprout. A fish wants a fat, juicy worm. Let them read a zombie story if they want, like World War Z (a personal favorite), then teach geography with a non-fiction text, using the book (document the spread of zombies across the globe. I am telling you: you MUST read this book. It's like non-fiction. But not. You could teach oral histories with this, too, and epidemiology. I digress).

EVERYTHING. Did I mention you should let kids read EVERYTHING?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ten Reasons Why People Love What They Do

MAN, is this ever timely. Ran across an article on Twitter this morning (follow me @HoneyFernSchool) about the ten reasons why some people love what they do. Here they are below, without explanations (the article is great, so read that, too, for more detail):

1. They seldom feel disconnected from the challenge that first engaged their interest.
2. They’re remarkably well-attuned to the “early years.”

3. They are “portfolio” thinkers.
4. They don’t care what you think.

5. They are born succession planners.
6. They will stay…but just know, they’ll also leave.

7. They won’t be stopped.
8. They draw people to them without even trying.

9. They live in the now.
10. They never, ever limit their vision to serve the interests of petty competition.
I love what I do; I finally get to teach in a manner that is in keeping with how students learn. FINALLY. I may have dabbled around in my classroom in public school, and I certainly taught differently from my colleagues, but at HoneyFern I get the enormous privilege of working with these faulous kids every day in the best way for them. Humbling.


The one thing this week "off" has shown me (well, many things, not the least of which is that too many pieces of pie is both good and bad, simultaneously) is that I am at a high risk of burning out. It's not the teaching part - it's everything else. Think of what it takes to run a school, from janitorial services to teaching to ordering to marketing to recruiting to administrative duties to managing social media to procurement to accounting to HR to...everything.

Now picture one person doing that for the past three years.

When I met with several people to talk about being on the Board, the one recurring theme was that the progressive private schools they had been involved with did one of two things wrong and thus failed or struggled mightily: 1) they expanded too fast and could not deliver on what they promised, so they compromised and became something other than what they were originally, or 2) the founders burnt out.

While #1 will never happen, #2 is getting close. I can tell from my anxiety dreams and level of stress when the kids aren't here. I don't know what the answer is (more pie?), but I will continue to move forward. We will see what happens.

(and if you'd like to get involved, let me know!)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Giving Thanks, a Day Late But All At Once

Happy post-Thanksgiving Day!!

This morning I slept in and am now ticking off my list of things to do: make turkey stock, work on a painting I started yesterday, read up on the next physics class, trim my horse's feet - anything but go shopping.

While I am list making, it seems appropriate that I make my list of things I am grateful for. I like to get things done, so here are all 30 things in one list, in no particularly order:

I am grateful for:

1. La Petite, first and foremost. This one is the most important. Now back to my "no particular order" system.

2. This chocolate cream pie recipe from King Arthur flour.

3. The fact that HoneyFern is doing very well.

4. That 2012 is almost over (it has been a pretty rough year personally).

5. Our health. Time to start moving around more, though.

6. The big changes that are coming next year, hopefully all positive.

7. Pastor Leonard at Hollydale Methodist Church. Working with him on the food pantry and backpack blessings has been incredible; he does amazing things for his community!

8. The Georgia Student Scholarship Organization and our new partnership for next year (if you are a corporation or individual who pays taxes in Georgia and would like to donate, please contact us)!

9. My puppy, Gatsby, who turned one yesterday and is very much the spoiled child.

10. Andrew Odom and the Tiny House r(E)volution for suppporting La Petite as she builds her tiny house.

11. And while we're at it, Tumbleweed Tiny Houses for offering their support and assistance, too. We are going to a Tiny House building workshop in January 2013 in Orlando and very much looking forward to meeting the whole team!

12. Might as well thank them all: Tiny House Talk and Kirsten Dirksen, too!

13. Golden Paints. They are too expensive, but they are beautiful and excellent to work with!

14. My horse, Sadie.

15. Poetry.

16. My incredible students who make every challenging and most excellent.

17. Fresh pasta.

18. Learning new things.

19. Garden planning.

20. My dad, who passed away five years ago but who is always with us, every day, in a million little ways.

21. My oldest friend, Kerry Allen (Langkammerer).

22. Hydroponics. I am grateful for hydroponics, and Atlantis Hydroponics.

23. Howard's Wrecker Service in Smyrna, who is working on La Petite's trailer for her house.

24. My mom, who, at 69 years old, is going to India for three weeks in February 2013. Amazing.

25. My brother, who reaffirms my political beliefs every time I talk to him.

26. My country, that allows us to say whatever we want. This is a liberty that we take for granted.

27. The following people: those who hold the door, smile, say "please" and "thank you," and who are otherwise generally courteous. It doesn't take much.

28. Draft Horse Owners of Georgia, a Facebook page that has the most supportive online community I have seen. There is disagreement, but it is not demeaning.

29. My husband. We are not perfect, but we are trying. Doesn't sound like a glowing endorsement, but after this past year, that's pretty good.

30. Moving forward and making progress.

So there it is. Some of it is practical, and there isn't much glowy romantic fluff this year. As noted in several posts, 2012 has not been fabulous, and I am glad to be shut of it. There is so much to be grateful for, though, and making the list helps me keep that in mind.

Here's to gratitude, and starting every year fresh!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How To Change Your Community With One Word


That's the one word that Incredible Edible uses to changes small towns from down-and-out to up-and-coming. This organization is based in the UK, but their website offers practical advice and tips for the vegging of your community that apply anywhere (local hardiness zones notwithstanding). Seattle has jumped on this bandwagon to create the nation's first "public food forest," and many other communities all across the country, urban and rural, are creating community garden plots and planting their front yards with green peppers instead of green grass.

Food builds community, and if it can educate while it nourishes, why not?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Project-based Learning

Project-based learning is the rock upon which HoneyFern rests. It places the learner front and center, giving them freedom and responsibility that fosters innovation and creativity.

For more on what project-based learning, please take 15 minutes out of your life to watch this video of High Tech High with its profound message and explanation of how project-based learning can really change a student's life. Then get in touch with HoneyFern to schedule a visit.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us

The title of this blog post is taken from a video discussion involving three students from Youth in Action, a student advocacy group that places students at the center of school reform (social change in general, really).

And where else should students be?

I have said many times in this blog and IRL that education has become too political and adult-centered; change is not happening for the benefit of students, regardless of how many educational buzzwords are thrown around. Education should be utterly student-centered; the only question to ask when implementing a reform is really more of a gut-check for adults: is what we are about to do truly for the benefit of kids? If there is any doubt, throw it out.

Recently I spoke with several people who insisted that pulic school is changing to be more focused on students because it has to, and yet speaking to kids in public schools and teachers in the trenches, and watching the news or reading essays and articles on education, these changes do not seem at all student-centered. There is still a dogged insistence on standardized testing (and standardized teaching - I still love the administrator who told me he would have to observe me again because the lesson he dropped in on was "too student-centered")); there are still textbook adoption committees. Both of these things ignore the reality of students and the world, and that is just the beginning. Funding formulas, charter schools, grading and teacher training have not changed substantively in quite some time, and the (lack of) quality of public schools shows that clearly.

You want reform? Ask kids. Then listen. Imagining Learning is doing that, and the results are clear. Students want a voice and respect; they want belonging, community involvement, meaningful work. Any school that does not offer these things is a dinosaur.

As the student in the video says, "Nothing without us is for us." When is the last time you listened to a kid?

Best. School. Ever.

Srsly. Quinn made us homemade bread and Nutella for the last day before the Thanksgiving break,  and at the end of the day we all sat down together and had a tea party.

(Quinn is the one in the floppy hat)

Look how happy and relaxed. These kids genuinely enjoy each others' company, and the tea was a perfect end to the day.

Best. School. Ever.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Site of the Week: Middle School

The Site of the Week this week is focused on a grade band close to my heart: middle school. When I went for my master's degree, it was always my intention to focus on middle school. There is something about this age that I love. Kids in grades 6-8 are sassy, curious and very, very funny. They get sarcasm but can be compassionate and sincere. They love to play but want to be taken seriously. They stand on the precipice of young adulthood, but they still make fart jokes and build things with cardboard and skip down the hall.

Middle school was featured on NPR's "This American Life" last week, and that broadcast is the Site of the Week. The voices of the students (and the befuddlement of the adults in the recording, at times) reflect clearly the voices of students in middle school everywhere. Many people find this age exasperating, and as a parent I can understand that; La Petite has her moments, for sure. The take-away, though, is that if we let our kids find their voice and we listen to what they have to say with an open mind and heart, they will keep talking to us, and if they keep talking to us, we can forge a bond that is strong and resilient, much like middle school kids themselves.

Listen to this podcast with your middle school kid, and ask them what they think about it after. Tell them about your experiences in middle school (mine were fairly horrible; mostly I remember being completely uncomfortable for the majority of the time. That and throwing up on a ride at the fair, an event so traumatic that no one even mentioned it, just flashed sympathetic and vaguely disgusted glances at me for a couple weeks afterwards), and ask about theirs.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Request

HoneyFern is a small school trying to grow. We are not suffering any pains because we are doing it the right way: slowly, intentionally and with integrity.

We are, however, trying to offer programs and support that a larger, more fully funded private school might offer; we have several students building large projects, we go on frequent fieldtrips (including upcoming fieldtrips to the opera, the Centers for Disease Control, a high ropes course, Blue Springs State Park to swim with manatees and more), and the school in generally tries to be responsive to student needs, ordering books and programs as students need them. HoneyFern is funded entirely by student tuition; we do not have debt, and we do not plan to have debt.

What does all of this mean?

As we try to grow, branching out into more marketing and recruitment, we need more funds. On this blog there is a little button that says "Support Progressive Ed." This button leads you to a Paypal account for HoneyFern, and any donation you send in, large or small, will go directly to the program you indicate (or into the general fund if no program is indicated). Want to help us swim with the manatees? Earmark your donation to that fieldtrip. Like the idea of students dressed up and sitting in the audience of La Traviata? Send us to the opera with your donation.

Are you a corporation that pays taxes in Georgia? Interested in suppporting progressive education? Please considering supporting us through the Georgia Student Scholarship Organization. Your corporation can donate up to 75% of your Georgia tax liability and receive a dollar-for-dollar Georgia tax credit as well as a federal tax deduction. Individuals and couples can donate, too; contact us for more information on that program.

Whatever you choose, whatever amount works for you, thank you for supporting progressive education and small schools in Georgia. We could not do it without you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

La Petite's Podcast Interview


Mad love to Andrew Odom and his support of La Petite's tiny house. Here is the podcast interview he conducted with La Petite earlier this week; in it, they discuss why she is building the house and what she hopes to get out of it. We are going to meet Andrew and his family next week and see his own tiny house, but in the meantime, I so appreciate his support and present this interview for your listening pleasure.

(La Petite's cover gets blown in this interview, but she will always be La Petite to me!!)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quinn Cooks!

We had an open house for all families at HoneyFern last week, and one of our only male students vaccuumed the school in preparation.

This past week, our other male student decided that he wanted to begin cooking lessons, so we started off with pizza featuring homemade mozzarella, crust and sauce. Below is the video of Quinn making cheese. Enjoy!!

Next week is teatime, featuring homemade bread with homemade Nutella. Quinn will be serving the ladies tea, and he hopes desperately that Will is there, too!!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Student Project: Hydroponic Greenhouse

Sarah, our newest new student, has decided that for her project she will be building a greenhouse with a hydroponic system. Because we both know very little about growing plants hydroponically, we decided it would be best to go ahead and set something up right away to experiment and figure out what works best. This video is of Sarah's first experimental system for lettuce.

We will check back in as we proceed through our experimental setups! Feel free to leave comments or suggestions on how to improve this!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Site of the Week: World History and Biology

Okay, late, late, late, but I have a massive case of the lazies (with a touch of the burntout), and I just couldne't get it together to post the Site of the Week Saturday (I took a nap instead).

This week, I found a great YouTube site that has short, fabulous videos on world history and biology. Strange combo but remarkably effective!



After a long weekend of softball (more on that later) and brief evening reading 12 x 12, I stumbled across a reference to this poem, which, in light of recent events in my personal life, is very timely. I share it this morning in hopes that it will inspire you to take a moment to be mindful.

Mindfulby Mary Oliver

Every day
I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant -
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these -
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean's shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Have a beautiful day!

Friday, November 9, 2012

How to Make Time Pass in the Office

It is a beautiful day here in Georgia; today one of the students is making lunch for the school (homemade pizza with homemade mozzarella, sauce and crust) and we are also going to monitor our stream. A good thing.

If you are trapped in an office and trying to make the time pass more quickly, here are five TedTalks that are really important for parents of gifted kids to watch. They are about 15 minutes each, and all give you reason to cheer and lots to think about.

Have a great day, and a beautiful weekend!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Worky Work, Busy Bee!!

Quick updates for the week; everything seems to be flying by, and blogging time has been limited!!

What are we doing?

1. Visiting a machine shop to get a critique of go-kart schematics;

2. Starting cooking classes with pizza, featuring homemade mozzarella, pizza crust and sauce;

3. Trying to figure out the mystery pH of our hydroponic system (4.5 one day, 7.5 five days later);

4. Working on blueprints for a chicken coop/artist space;

5. Translating children's books into French (Fancy Nancy);

6. Gearing up for a podcast with Andrew Odom, another local tiny house builder and starter of Tiny

7. Winning a $25,000 grant for board development;

8. Still recruiting an Executive Director; and

9. Adding more students!

This year is flying by, and before we know it we will be out of this location and (hopefully) into another one next fall, with at least 20 students and another teacher. If you'd like to join us, please contact HoneyFern to schedule a visit and get to know us better!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day

Every time I vote I remember the first time I voted. My polling place was an old folks' home in Catonsville, Maryland, and I remember standing in an endless line of old people; the whole building smelled like baby powder and disinfectant. I was so excited to be voting, having waited so long for the right, and I was probably the only person smiling in the line. It took about an hour to get up to the booth, pull the curtain and cast my vote. I stayed up all night and watched the returns. My candidate won.

Voting is the most important responsibility we have as citizens of this country. Full stop. So why do approximately 40% of eligible voters stay home? Voter turnout this year is likely to be lower than eight years ago in one of the most polarizing elections in, well, four years. A vote that is split nearly evenly down the middle, as it has been for the past three elections, in hardly a referendum or a clear indication of what the country actually wants. Why do people stay home? Apathy? Ignorance? Disenfranchisement? Probably a combination of the three.

I have been saying that no matter who wins this election, we all lose. Until everyone who is eligible votes makes it to the polls, and until there is a clear unity in the direction of the country, Americans will continue to bicker, squabble and be disrespectful of each other's choices.  "This American Life" on NPR had a story on Sunday about how we are no longer able to discuss politics, that it is less about trying to understand the other's point of view and more about getting them to change their minds; both sides call the other one ignorant, uneducated and foolish, and both sides are equally distorting facts and statistics to make their points. Friendships and families are tested during election season; I cannot speak to my brother at all about politics, so divided are we.

This deep divide in the country is not right either, but perhaps the issue is that we are not all involved, and if everyone who could vote, did, then we would actually understand better the pulse of the country. There are many reasons for voting, and elections matter. The polls are open until 7 pm local time; if you are registered to vote but do not know where your polling pace is, text WHERE to 877-877, then reply with your full home address. Your boss is required by law to allow you to vote, and there are many organizations who are working hard to get you to the polls. Get your kids involved by printing out this map and having them color each state as the returns come in. Do a little research on the electoral college in general, and find your state's electors.

GO VOTE. It is the most important thing you will do this year.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Site of the Week: Rhyming?

Whether you are a writer or a rapper, a poet or a poseur, this Site of the Week is for you: an online rhyming dictionary. Type in your word and up pops many rhymes, including near rhymes and multiple syllable rhymes.

A very helpful tool!

Friday, November 2, 2012

On Halloween

I admit it: I was one of those, "If you're not wearing a costume, I'm not giving you candy" types of people. Nothing would make me turn off my porch light faster than a group of kids in t-shirts making up lame excuses, like "I'm a student," or "It's laundry day."

That changed this year.

The neighborhood we live in had fewer porch lights on this year (by half, probably) than when we last trick-or-treated it (about two years ago), and barely any kids in costume (whereas they were nearly all costumed before).  I asked my kid if she thought that if, given the opportunity, kids her age and younger would choose not to wear a costume, and she said she believed they would dress up if they could.

And with that, it hit me: dressing up is a middle-class privilege. Handing out (and receiving) "the good candy" is a middle class privilege. Our neighborhood is decidely working class, trending more toward the lower-SES than the middle. Our local elementary school is 90% free-and-reduced-price lunch eligible.  My daughter and I generally make her costume every year, and the total price comes in around $30, what you might spend to buy a costume in a bag. A family with two or three kids may not be able to shell out the bucks for a costume; does that mean they should stay inside on Halloween, or, worse yet, choose which kid gets a costume and which one doesn't?

We talk about our economy in vague terms, with both presidential candidates tossing around billions of dollars like a beach ball, but in reality, the economy hurts kids in terms of their childhood; little things like trick-or-treating are affected, and just like that are gone. This is one of those walk-a-mile-in-someone-else's-shoes kinds of revelations. Seems simple, but this week I listened to every adult I spoke to rail against kids who aren't in costume. That was me in the past, but not anymore.

(Understand that I still have some issues with 16-year-olds wandering around asking for candy. I haven't quite shaken that. I am talking about middle school and lower).

My kid's candy haul was less this year, but the night was no less fun for it. We painted one of the horses like a tiger and took him around with candy so the neighborhhod could see a live horse (one little girl asked if she could pet our cow), and one particularly incredible person in the neighborhood staged an elaborate haunted house that was the biggest draw of all. I wished I had bought more candy. I wished it hadn't taken me so long to see why giving candy to uncostumed kids is okay.  Next year I am going to stock up on the good kind of candy and hand it out to everyone who knocks.

I leave you with this Day of the Dead video; have a great weekend!