Making Margaret Parra’s Cherry Tarts

From the very beginning of Sudbury Valley, cooking has been an activity enjoyed by many members of the community. The people working in the kitchen always have great fun, mixing ingredients, making messes, tasting, joking, and hanging out together.

Margaret Parra, who was one of the founders of the school, was a great cook. Being with her in the kitchen was always a lot of fun. While the cooking itself was serious business, she was always telling stories about her adventures all over the world as a naval officer’s wife, as well as telling hilarious jokes from a seemingly endless repertoire. All the students loved her and her cooking. Our Press has even published a cookbook with her recipes, available through the bookstore on our website.

cherry-tarts059Today Lauren and Kelly made cherry tarts, one of Margaret’s all-time favorites, with eleven students. They worked from 11:00 to 2:00, making some two hundred tarts and three pies. It actually is a lot of work, but it is enjoyable work. There is melting the butter, crushing Graham crackers into crumbs, blending eggs and cream cheese in the mixer, and assembling it all in baking pans. When the tarts cool off after baking, cherry topping is applied to each one. The result was a delicious dessert which people of all ages seemed to love.

All the work was worth it because the atmosphere in the kitchen was serene, pleasant and harmonious – remarkable when you realize that so many people were working in the kitchen. And that’s what I love most of all about Sudbury Valley: the joy people have every day, in so many activities!

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The Halloween Dance

Celia911Age mixing is a constant phenomenon at school. We see it so much that it is not remarkable to us any longer. However, at the annual Halloween dance the “mixing” is part of the fun, and is obvious for all to see. For me, it is still amazing to watch how the older teenage kids integrate the little ones into the event. They dance with them, admire and comment on their costumes, and award them prizes for “best dancing”, “most original outfit”, and so forth.Amelia-and-Jane877

This particular dance was as always organized entirely by the students, and it all went smoothly. The decorations, the food, the music, the lovely prizes and the cleanup were taken care of excellently, as we have come to expect. Most important, all the sixty participants had a great time. You can see it for yourself!

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Children as actors in their own lives

When we first enrolled our girls in SVS, I thought the emphasis on having both parents and kids sign things was a little silly or forced. The kids were nervous, not about going to SVS, but how they should sign. Was the first name and last name necessary? To be a real signature does it have to be in cursive? How do you do upper case letters in cursive? I thought of movies I had watched growing up, where an “Indian” has to sign some white man’s document by putting his X at the bottom.

But this summer, when the camps came to an end and we had to sign this year’s SVS forms, it felt refreshing. The summer was full of various camps, and I was amazed by the lack of kid involvement in the business of their own summers. As parents, we had to fill out reams of forms, liability disclaimers, sun screen permissions, photo permissions, emergency contact and behavioral expectations forms. I was amazed the kids did not have to sign the behavioral expectations forms. But even those were ultimately aimed at the parents not the children. It was a set up, so that the parents knew that if the camp called and said little Johnny was not behaving, the parents understood that they would have to pick Johnny up immediately and that he would not be allowed to return.

Not a single one of the forms required the involvement of the kids themselves. There were documents to be completed indicating who could meet the kids at the bus. I had to show ID, which on some level I appreciate, but the staffer could have also just turned to either of my kids and say, “Is this the person you expected to meet you?” In many ways it felt more like I was accepting a delivery from UPS, than I was reuniting with my increasingly independent children. That camp also required extra documents to be filled out so that my 15 and 12 year old could walk the 1/4 mile from the camp bus stop back to our home without me meeting the bus in person.

I understand all the security and liability issues driving this process, but the end product contributes to the sense that the children do not really participate in their own lives. They are not subjects in their own world, they are simply packages being transported from one jurisdiction to the next. They are no more in control of their own existence than the poor “Indian” in the movie duped into putting his X on the document that gave his ancestral home lands to wily railroad representatives.

So, it is with renewed appreciation that our family returns to the SVS routine, where the kids own their time, their education and their signatures.

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