“The Trial of Alice in Wonderland” A Musical at Sudbury Valley

cheshire-cat935Musicals and plays happen at all schools. It is always a big deal to produce them, what with numerous rehearsals to arrange, costumes and props to procure, and finding the talent in the student body to perform all the roles, big and small. What was unusual about the performance last Spring, was that it was all organized, financed and coached by the students themselves.

Twenty two students were in the production, ranging in age from five to nineteen. Georgia was the producer, and Brenna was the singing and acting coach, also responsible for the staging, and co-directed every aspect of the show. They went around the school asking people whether they wanted to participate in the show. They arranged auditions and settled who will be the cast of the musical. All the participants committed to come to three rehearsals a week, and to stay for about an hour and a half each time.

opening-number930Every Wednesday, I do the mid-day census of students under eight, so I would have to make my way to the barn in rain or shine to find the children who were there for the rehearsal. It was remarkable to see everyone’s quiet focus on what was being discussed. No attention-seeking by the participants, nor was any cajoling needed by the older students. Everyone was equally attentive and cooperative. They prepared for about four months, and the results reflected all the hard work.

The cost of putting this show on was about $600. All of the money was raised by the participants, who sold goodies that they had cooked at school or brought from home. The rights for the play and the books cost $300, and the costumes and props cost $300, either bought at thrift stores or built for the show. The result was stunning in appearance and impressive visually.

alice942An hour before show time I went to the barn to look around. There was lots going on but no frenetic activity, no nervous energy or irritation, something usually expected before a show everywhere. Students who weren’t in the show were setting up the chairs and the music apparatus, others were applying make-up to all the eager faces and helping the actors adjust their costumes.

Finally at one o’clock sharp the show began and lasted for an hour. The singing was really excellent, the staging superb, the costumes beautiful, and the whole performance totally delightful. The packed house showed its appreciation repeatedly throughout the show.
Next day I asked Georgia why she undertook this huge project. She said that she believed that she could be a good director and so she set out to prove this to herself. I inquired what qualities she thought a director needs. This was her reply:

“Vision; Firmness; Perseverance; Knowledge of acting and singing; Organizing abilities; and Understanding that all kids are different and have to be treated accordingly.”

little-alice-and-tea958My last question to her was:”Did you feel it was a success?” and she answered:”Yes, it was more than I hoped for.”

For me too this kind of tour de force executed by so many students on their own was more than I ever imagined would emerge from the freedom and respect for children that SVS offers to everyone.

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A Renaissance at SVS?

Imagine my delight when I was contracted by the Physical Plant Committee’s representatives to help in the massive restoration project this summer at SVS! In the words of a founder, “It’s the biggest renovation we’ve ever done . . . even bigger than when we opened in 1968!” The roads were retarred; new boilers were installed – a very sophisticated system; and, oh, there’s wifi in the barn!!!; every bit of the landscape was gone over; Rick has been doing some serious things at the millhouse and dam, though I never made it down to see; Kevin had thirty projects going, and was sending people left and right; we had some seriously great help from present students and staff; and Mad Matt was wowing us with his cleaning prowess. I’ve never seen someone clean an attic ceiling before!

My task was to renovate the Music Corp’s assets which had been put into the hands of the Physical Plant Committee by the School Meeting. The Music Corp seemed to be going through a vacuum of power! I felt a bit like Jacques Cousteau or a forensic scientist in going through these assets. The layers of history are a continuing fascination. Who designed the five walled large rehearsal room with its opening tube structure? Who bought 6,000 watts worth of power amps!!?? We have a Zither? Really???

Trombones and cymbals were polished, guitars were polished, oiled and restrung, amps were soldered and rewired, walls were painted, we restored and stained the rehearsal room ceilings which are a beautiful hardwood. Note the ceiling trim Kevin and Randy put in! We hung all the instruments around the walls. We dusted off the flutes, violins, clarinet, sax, accordion, banjo, mandolin and all the great stuff that this place has accumulated over the years. Ready for action, once again.

In the quiet of summer when there are no yelps outside the window, you wonder if the work you do will have an impact, and you wait for the creative spark of the kids to guide you…with great anticipation!

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A Student’s Experience in the Real World

This weeks blog was originally published as an article in our journal, October 1, 2002. It was written by SVS alum Evan Hughes, who is now an SVS parent!

There is a myth out there, a false idea called the “real world”. “It’s not like that in the real world.” “When you get out there in the real world, you’ll see.” The idea fed to children and students is that they must do unpleasant things to prepare for this monster, be it taxes, maintaining a space, feeding oneself, dealing with people, dealing with government, getting into college or getting a good job. The myth is that when you step into the “real world” outside school, there will be some form of these things that you are not ready or worthy to handle yet. I offer my experiences as proof that there is only one world, and that is the one we create for ourselves.

The first challenge outside SVS was getting into college. I started at Framingham State doing a night course in Biology. I did not like the professor, and it was an adjustment NOT to get up and leave, a la SVS style, but I knew what I wanted (to become a Chiropractor) and I was not willing to let this asshole deter me, so I found out what needed to be done, stuck it out, and passed with a C-. Adaptation is a skill of the SVS student.

Next I decided to attend Mass Bay Community College. I had problems with paper work and official forms. I did not yet have my diploma from SVS, the C- from Biology was not enough to take the Anatomy class I needed, and they wanted to test my writing skills before letting me attend. (To this day I still can’t spell.) By the end of my dealing with the assistant Dean, I was permitted to take Anatomy; given a forced entry into a psychology class I needed that was full, and the diploma issue was settled with a letter from SVS. So I got in to classes I technically should not have without a high school diploma and got my first college A that semester. I ended up tutoring Anatomy for the college. (Still can’t spell.) After debating on the School Meeting floor for years, bureaucracy is no problem for me.

While attending the rest of my schooling at Mass Bay, I went to the Boston Shiatsu School to learn Chinese Medicine. After a curriculum change, a needed class for graduation was not going to happen for a small group of us. After getting classes started at SVS, it was second nature to make calls and arrange for teachers to come. I was only nineteen and adults were thanking me for making it possible for them to graduate. Focused desire is a skill of the SVS student.

After getting what I needed from undergraduate studies and finishing Shiatsu school, there was time to go live in Japan for a while before Chiropractic school. I knew no one stepping off the plane, but ended up teaching English, and I traveled from the top to the bottom of the country. For two months I was in charge of a small staff at a school in Hokkaido. Knowing how to ask for help and gather needed information are additional skills of the SVS student. (In this case I needed to gather info on HOW to ask for help, but that’s another matter.)

I arrived in Atlanta to study Chiropractic in September 2000. The school has a curriculum that uses 25 credits a quarter. Talk about shock. All of a sudden, I was in classrooms for more than 30 hours a week, and finding time to work as well as learn from Chiropractic technique clubs and seminars during my free time. Again, I knew what I wanted, and knew how to adapt. The first quarter kicked my butt, but I made it with help from others and tenacity. By third quarter my test-taking skills were up to par with my classmates (some of whom had Masters degrees). My ability to learn and understand a subject is far better than the average student’s; I can debate with anyone about physiology or human biomechanics.

From the perspective of work, lifeguarding was a favorite during school, moving up to aquatics director, overseeing lifeguards and teaching staff. (Leadership comes second nature to most SVS kids.) I taught gymnastics for all ages, swimming, tutored anatomy, psychology and English. (Still can’t spell.) Now, while attending Chiropractic school, I am teaching sacro-ocipital technique to fellow students through a club on campus. I have also been earning a living doing Shiatsu and Chinese medicine (advertising, health talks, paperwork and not killing annoying clients are just some of the challenges).

So when does it get harder than SVS?! I’m halfway through grad school and making money with a vocational degree in Chinese medicine. I’ve worked as a laborer and also as a supervisor in more than one country and now run the only Shiatsu practice in Atlanta. So where is this demon called the real world? The answer is, it is only a myth. SVS is as real as it gets, folks. The real world is what we make of it, and the SVS world is made up every day directly by the children themselves. Everything children do at SVS is training for what is to come in their lives.

My first year I played 4-square and did little else. In that simple game I learned sociology, psychology, physiology, physics, the judicial system, communication skills, etc, etc. All of the issues I faced in that game, from dealing with a bully, to playing fair, to helping others and standing up for myself, have all come back to haunt me later in life. These are the things that SVS lets you develop; the rest of the skills will fall in to place as you need them.

If you know what you want and you can concentrate, you can get through college. If you can organize yourself and be with others, you can succeed in business. I could not read until I was twelve. This is not important. I still cannot tell you what a noun is. It has not affected me. I never took the S.A.T.’s, and have no idea what my IQ is. (I still can’t spell.) The only skills you need are the ones that make you powerful and whole.

At SVS, the students are given time to figure out what they want out of life. This alone is worth the education, but in addition you learn how to make it happen.

Once when I came back to an open house at Sudbury Valley, a little girl no more than six years old ran into me in the hall [thump]. She was no taller than my waist. I leaned over her with my towering 6-foot frame to intimidate her with a half-smile. She looked right up at me, and in that moment, she was six feet tall and in every respect my equal, smiling back. Tell me this little girl can’t get into any school she wants, with or without a diploma. That is Sudbury Valley School.

If you want college, I mean really want college, the skills will come. It may take you time to get your math in shape, to take physics, but if you know what you want, you will do it with the same love you had for drawing with Joanie, the same concentration used with Hanna in yoga class, the same intensity as arguing with Mikel in J.C.

Sometimes in the SVS halls you will hear, “I’m bored.” It’s music to my ears as I look back, because “bored” translates to, “I’m finding my center,” and when that student does, we will have a person who can focus their whole being on what they are doing with their life. Is there anything more perfect?

With all that I’ve just talked about, do you think asking your kids to take math and reading will better prepare them for college?

Around the age of fifteen, I began to question the value of SVS and tried to compare myself to others of my age. If I had known of a better school, I would have gone, but a 15 year old can find fault with any institution. The problem is that you can’t measure the real skills of life. Businesses have tried, but there is really no way to tell if someone has their act together or not. The older I get, however, the more I see what went on within the school. The school is not perfect, but after attending three higher learning centers and teaching a variety of things from scholastics to back flips, I have found that the SVS method is the best thing going. If you are in the school now, look around and see for yourself.

Being in charge of your own life is the hardest thing one can ever do, at any age. Students take that skill for granted at SVS because they don’t know any other way to be. Let me tell you, it is a powerful way to be.

Life is education. Now, you can get in the way, or you can let it happen. In my case they let it happen, and now no one can stand in my way.

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