It makes me feel incredibly sad, but still hopeful that not all is lost, although my fears make it difficult to focus on the hope at this time. As a founding teacher, hired two years before the school opened, the decision to change to a Junior year semester school has been an emotionally disturbing experience. We all worked so hard to build the school up to a four year, private school with accreditation from ISACS, it is difficult to see this just being changed so suddenly.
It was SO wonderful to see all of the alums at graduation, but also so sad to think that these deep, caring relationships will not be the result of the educational process of the school again. I could not stop crying on the day of the triathalon, the day before graduation. Every time I saw another alum, it reminded me of all the great memories that we had established as a result of the four years together. I grieved the loss of all of our hard to put the school and the curriculum in place and then see it tossed away like Paul's "the jewels in the hankerchief" metaphor. Semester schools have their role and are wonderful places, but when we established the Conserve School curriculum, we envisioned all students conducting some research of their choosing and recognized the time it took to develop and engage in a serious research project. It took more than one semester to make that happen. First we had to teach them about research and academic integrity (e.g. about plagiarism). Then through their IRM projects we got to know them and could help to guide them in more sophisticated research about their topic. We wanted them to be passionate about their research and get to the point where work became play, and also a meaningful means of making a contribution to society and the sustainability of the planet. We did not have the close access to a research community like the large urban schools did. We could also use this as a means of why it was so important to learn about excellent communication skills, both orally and in writing. The more convincing that you are to an audience, the better the chance that you can make things happen. Their research projects did not emerge in a semester, they were like graduate school; they took a long time to find out their interests and passions or to develop them in the students. We could teach them the "how to"s and provide them with ideas for a number of possible projects, or show them how to develop their projects into real world research projects, but it took more than a semester to do that. In the meantime, we also had to help them with their basic knowledge base about their research topic be it history or English or math or science or language. In addition, we assisted them in improving their writing skills and helped them to understand how research progresses as well as how to fund it at times. To us, that was genuine real-world learning, not just memorizing factoids in a textbook.
Plus, the experiences we had together developed deep and profound relationships. I care about these students as if they were my own children. I relish our time together and treasure the memories we had, because they were meaningful through the research and fun topped with the sheer enjoyment of life through the sports program and outdoor education adventures. Sitting together over meals and having intense conversations over topics or just enjoying each other and laughing were wonderful. They were more valuable than money and more precious than gemstones. I will always treasure them in my heart.
One personally satisfying and reassuring thing that I learned from graduation and interacting with the graduates then and now, is that together, we have, can, and will make a difference. We are fulfilling the mission of the school we all envisioned. All of the graduates are going into environmental work, work that can affect our care of the environment, or embody such environmental ethics, that we can all be proud. Together, we leave a legacy now and in the future, and for that I am forever grateful.
To me, graduation was the beginning of a cathartic experience. If I was forced to have closure, than it was best to be able to see and talk to all the alumni in attendance who cared so much that they travelled even great distances to hear the students and faculty give their speeches and to remember the amazing contributions of past graduates and to recognize those of the class of 2009.
When I left Conserve School as a faculty member, on the last day I went up to Long Hunt to say a final thank you to the Lowenstines for providing us this school and this opportunity to follow our dream. I hope that James and Elaine Lowenstine could feel my appreciation of their vision for making my dream a reality. I know that his dream touched more than me. I pray that his dream will live on and thrive, change and grow beyond the lives of all of us. The Lowenstine's dream has become part of our lives and this had both profound and frustrating. When I joined the school as one of the first employees, the first bumper sticker read, "Conserve School: the Dream, the School, the Future". We all had so much invested in this school in terms of dreams, work, and play. I can only hope that the greater vision that guides us will prevail and that the school will eventually continue to grow and to evolve to sustain life on earth in a healthy and productive way. In the mean time, I am very sad.
**Thank You Patti for letting us share your words, and thank you for all of your inspiration! -RM