Being a part of the Seeds of Peace community has been one of the most formative experiences of my life. The relationships I developed as an American Delegation Leader changed me and changed my perspective of what good learning looks like. It shifted my trajectory as an educator and planted a seed in me to want to start a school that felt more like Seeds of Peace—a context centered around individuals, personal development, and relationships.
How have you impacted your community?
As a biology teacher in New York City, I quickly became aware of how many beautiful impulses, great ideas, and acts of self-determination get squashed by a school system that confuses process for substance. Many young people do not thrive in traditional academic settings where they are taught to be passive recipients of information, instead of independent investigators and producers of new knowledge.
That’s why I began working to create experiences (e.g. workshops, vacation camps, in- and after-school programs) where young people unearth their own tastes and interests and then translate those interests into projects that matters to them. I first did this in Somerville, Massachusetts, where for almost three years I worked with a team to start a new kind of public school, called Powderhouse Studios. There, I led our pilot program at a local middle school.
I’m now working with High Tech High, a project-based, public charter school in San Diego to document and co-design mixed-age, immersive, semester-long experiences where teenagers do real, creative work that’s personally meaningful. Last year, a group of 23 students and two adults made a documentary film about the mismanagement of the Colorado River and the resulting environmental and public health effects. I’m currently documenting that work and we’re designing a program for the spring of 2019.
Traditional schooling starts with the assumption that young people are future adults and that they need preparation before they can do work that matters to them. We’re starting from a very different assumption: that young people are ready to do high quality, powerful work that expresses their tastes and interests. This assumption comes from experience. I’ve seen young people invent new kinds of music, new languages, and develop new approaches to computer programming.
This is incredible but it shouldn’t be rare. Everyone should get the chance to do great work; to do what they love.