“I want to be the age I am right now!”

This week, Mimsy muses about the kinds of things kids learn here at SVS.

magali-nia-facepaintI realized that one of the kids in school who had been here for many years was about to turn eleven. (How dare she get so old?) I said, “Oh, I wish you were still 7½ .” What I meant, of course, was that the years go by too fast, and we remember enjoying the kid’s younger selves even as we enjoy the time with them now.

She answered, “I don’t. I am happy with exactly the age I am right now.” What a powerful answer! I bet she has always felt that way, and I won’t be surprised if she always will. She’s certainly always happy and engaged. She knows what Sudbury Valley kids learn right down to the marrow of their bones: how to use every moment to the best advantage and how to build the person they want to become, one step at a time, often without being conscious of those steps. She has no time or need for regrets. Meanwhile, she spreads delight throughout the school.

Fast forward a few weeks. I encountered another remarkable sort of empowerment, one that could not have seemed like a more different interaction, but was really of a piece with the first one. I walked into school. In the main lounge, an 18 year old boy said, “Hey, Mims! Do you play this game?” He was playing 2048 on his cellphone. I said (knowing my pathetic ability to excel at any game like that), “Sometimes.”

“Look!” he said. His screen had 4096 on it. Why did I think this interaction had any meaning you might wonder? Not because he had gotten to 4096 when I struggle to reach 1024. It was because an 18 year old kid was comfortable enough in his own skin and in the community to treat me just like he treats anyone else. “Hey, Mims!” It doesn’t get any better than that!

A few weeks later I was clomping up the office stairs with a cane. He was ahead of me holding the door. He said, “I thought you were only going to go up the front stairs for now.” (They are significantly easier – 17 instead of 15!) I said, (growl implied), “I don’t like being a wimp.” He looked at me sweetly and gently said, “It’s okay to be a wimp.”

So here you go: The 11 year old is fully empowered from the tip of her toes to the top of her head. The 18 year old is so evolved that he can treat me like an equal. And the same boy can treat me with tenderness and kindness out of respect that has nothing to do with age – only with community and the generosity that comes naturally to him. People wonder what kids at Sudbury Valley learn. Well, everything!

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Parental involvement

This week’s post was written by SVS parent Shawna Nehiley

Parental involvement is a term that is used frequently in traditional education. It usually consists of things like volunteering in the classroom, participating in the PTO or chaperoning field trips. On a more insidious level, the involvement of parents in their childʼs education ensures that the values of the culture and/or those of the family of origin prevail over the individuality of the child. Parental involvement then, is not so much for the childʼs benefit, but for the benefit of the educational institution or for the parents themselves.

It is not surprising then, that in a Sudbury school, where the primary objective is for the child to develop into the unique individual nature intended him or her to be, parental involvement is not encouraged.

As the parent of an SVS student who attended public school for five years, I find that part of the beauty of Sudbury Valley is that my son Gavin considers it his school. This means that I donʼt know a whole lot of what happens during his day other than the bits and pieces he chooses to share with me.

And I am more than okay with this, because I think a large part of the whole Sudbury experience is for children to explore their own independence and experience themselves as individuals capable of following their own instinctive directions. This is very hard to do when there are adults hovering around, most especially parents.

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a child to be completely free in the presence of parental figures. I know in my own life, even as a grown woman, I tend to feel far less free when my parents are around. For children, this feeling is amplified, for they are still dependent on their parents for the very basic things in life, like food, shelter and love.

I feel that part of the magic that happens at Sudbury Valley is that my son is learning who he is as a person, apart from whatever cultural or familial beliefs or values he has been initiated into without his own consent. In this way, it is a place that is completely his, without any agenda, implicit or implied, from any outside source. This, I feel, is a key component of a Sudbury education, and one which is of primary importance in the growth of a child into full, autonomous adulthood.


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My love-hate relationship with Concession

Staff member Hanna Greenberg shares her mixed feelings about a Sudbury Valley institution.

It’s much easier to explain why having a candy store at SVS is problematic than why, year after year, the School Meeting votes to keep it in operation.

concession-1Think of how prospective parents feel when they walk into the main lounge on the way to the office at noon. Kids are gleefully purchasing a variety of candies and sodas—the kind of food many parents would rather their children avoid. They’re careful to feed their children only natural foods at home, and they often try to limit the amount of fat and empty calories that are so abundant in Concession’s offerings.

“How can the school allow this to happen?” they ask me, and it’s not so easy to explain how for us, freedom of choice trumps good nutrition.

“Isn’t the body’s health number one, and isn’t it the parents’ responsibility to take care of their children and protect them from harming themselves?” they say. It takes quite a long discussion to convince them that SVS parents have to be able to trust their kids’ judgement about things like how to spend their time, when to wear shoes and coats in the winter, and how to stay away from hazards like walking on the pond ice. (Though there is a big sign telling them when it’s safe.) For some parents it is simply unacceptable to allow their kids to eat “junk foods,” and they don’t even consider enrolling them. It is sad for me, of course, but maybe it is best for us and the family. SVS just doesn’t fit their value system, and it is better to know that earlier than later.

Now I will tell you what I love about Concession. First and foremost it is a business, totally run by students. It was conceived about 20 years ago by Mary Brigitte O’Neill. This is what happened. Long before she attended SVS, a truck which supplied lunches to road and construction workers discovered that kids at our school were good customers as well. So he parked his truck, which the students dubbed “the roach coach,” on the road by the entrance to our parking lot. After a while we decided that it wasn’t safe for our students to go out into the street to make their purchases, and we allowed him to park on our property.

This arrangement lasted quite a while until a new owner took over the business. He turned out to be nasty and disrespectful to our students. As we were talking about terminating our arrangement with him, Mary Brigitte made a proposal to run a concession inside the school.  And it has been going strong ever since. As one team leaves, another takes over. It takes a lot of work to run this little business and some students do a better job than others. But what I love about all the people involved is the way they relate to little kids with patience and kindness. They even started a tradition that on your birthday you get a free candy!

concession-greer2So when you walk into the school at twelve o’clock you will see how smoothly Concession operates: how kids choose what they want to buy with great care, and how people don’t shove and push, but wait their turn like the calm and civilized citizens students of SVS are expected to be.

So every year, when it’s time to vote for another crew to run Concession, my love of it overcomes my concerns and I happily vote “yes!”


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