transcript from our April 10, 2014 meeting.
View a video of the meeting here:
Video: Shaping the future of Orsch
Thank you for coming today 😊
I will actually be reading to you today, word for word, for two reasons.
1) I don’t want to miss anything.
2) Because, although I hope to be a great speaker someday, I’m not one yet 😊 I am, however, a writer, so I have written to you from my heart and want it to come out just right with all the right words.
First and foremost, I’d like to recognize this truly incredible staff. All of the people working at Orsch work here because they love children, believe in what they’re doing, and dedicate more time and more effort than has ever been expected. It’s the world’s best, most low paying job. Thank you for working for a salary on which you can barely survive. You truly work here for community and passion and without your dedication, this school would not exist.
Thank you for always responding to input and feedback from your colleagues, from parents and from students. Thank you for striving, every day, to meet their needs and working tirelessly in the best interest of students. Thank you for believing that is a noble and rewarding charge. Thank you for always being willing to come together to solve problems or improve a paradigm. We are a great team and I can’t say enough about the joy I feel each day working with all of you.
A specific shout out to Stacy, who has voluntarily taken on administrative duties over the years. Stacy and I handle at least one significant issue each day, often bringing it home, allowing it to interfere with family life, waking in the middle of the night to solve it, and battling the emotional turmoil it all brings. Stacy, your dedication to helping me survive will supply gratitude for a lifetime. Thank you. And thank you to Eric, Gage and Sam for your patience and support in all of it.
And, to Miss Elizabeth. You will leave us to go Teach For America! Congratulations on securing a highly coveted and very competitive position within this organization. We will miss you terribly, but you will spread goodness far and wide and be a shining light to the inner-city kids of St. Louis. We would like to award you with this certificate. You are officially Schertified! Congratulations!
As I stated in my email, we had high hopes of telling you of our wonderful, collaborative partnership with Western State Colorado University. We not only saw this as the perfect location, but it was also a very exciting next step for me personally.
I was elated at the prospect of inspiring young teachers and guiding them in Orschy goodness. But…eh hem…
What is Orsch?
I assigned this prompt as an essay this year. In big world, kids had to think about their school, their day to day lives, and put their thoughts to paper. I’m not sure how much you all understand about Orsch philosophy, and I highly doubt any of our students have done any digging into philosophy. But there were three common threads throughout these essays.
The first common element among the essays was family and friendship (community). Most students chose to write about the feeling of Orsch being their second home where they could trust others, where they enjoy friendship, collaborate and solve problems as they arise. Another strong theme within this thread was their love of their teachers. They feel inspired, guided and heard. It is clear they feel supported.
I’m pretty sure they didn’t realize, while writing these essays, that they were speaking of Orsch’s philosophical foundation: a secure and nurturing environment. As written in the book…”Students do not feel free to learn if their environment is fearful, stifling, or boring.”
The second most common theme within their essays was freedom. They spoke of freedom to think and freedom to choose and freedom to eat when hungry. Little do these kids know, freedom, flexibility, and independence is Orsch’s first pillar. These kids not only live with freedom and independence in their lives, they recognize it as a key component of their educational structure, and they appreciate it. They learn from it. They thrive within it. This important pillar allows them to learn from their mistakes and to learn first hand, that they don’t enjoy idle moments, that they do enjoy hard work and learning new concepts and and thinking beyond information.
Interestingly, they also wrote about Orsch’s second pillar, creativity. To quote the pillar:
We are creative beings.
Creativity must be encouraged and accepted in all that we do.
Creativity must reign in assignments, projects, answers, questions, discussions, vision.
Creativity must have no limits.
Creativity can be modeled and taught, but mostly it must simply be
…allowed to flourish.
Creativity is not just fun. It is an innate way of thinking about the world. I’m pretty sure if we set these 68, sorry, 69 minds to solving the world’s biggest problems, they could do it in very little time. More than once, I have envisioned sending them to Washington to fix some things 😊
Creativity is also incredibly motivating: a fuel of sorts.
Imagine a world where every child felt a limitless possibility like these kids do. Imagine a world where these beings grow up and seek world peace because they know it’s possible.
The third pillar was not addressed. Without looking closely, does anyone know what the third pillar is? It’s ok. Few people do. But it is equally important as the first two, which is why it is the same size as the others 😊
To explain it, I will tell you a recent story from my math class.
Students: “Yay Ms Jackie!”…”We love this packet!”…”This is fun!”…
Feeling like I just hit a materials and assignment homerun (always a great feeling), I printed another packet from the same curriculum company to reinforce the next concept. I thought I heard a few grunts. At the distribution of the third packet, I was the recipient of near mutiny.
Paraphrased quotes here: “Oh, these AGAIN?!”…”Ms Jackie, I don’t wanna do this!”
I knew better. I had wavered from the third pillar: variety.
As young humans, they need variety in programming, in assignments, in activity, in ways of thinking. Their little minds are exploring the world from hundreds of angles. If we hope to keep them engaged, the need for dynamic and varied approaches is a must. I have learned this the hard way. I have learned and relearned and continue to get reminders. In addition, the whole, “what sort of learner are you thing?” – the only hope in serving every learner is variety in approaches.
Knowledge and Experience
Independently sought. Taught. Offered. Invented. Encouraged. Guided. Hands-on. Project-based. Using technology. Collaborative. Innovative. Interactive. Lived. Acted. Sung. Created. Heard. Visualized. Sculpted. Dreamed. Drawn. Danced…
And ways we haven’t even thought of yet.
The reason nobody wrote about this in their essays is because these students have come to expect this level of attention from us. They know we will provide because we listen to them. They know, we know what they need, and they trust us to provide it and they feel FREE to speak their minds. In response, we continue to serve their needs.
Our students are capable. Our students are thriving. They are capable, thriving learners, as is our goal. Our philosophy was not invented by data or grown-ups. Orsch stood back six years ago and listened. We listened to students. We listened to parents and we chose a flexible, creative, dynamic existence as teachers, because that is what we desire. We listened. We built this school around the hopes, the needs and the desires of the people in our lives. And we have enough people to call this a significant sample.
Our philosophy pretty much covers it. It’s a bold statement, but as an avid behavioral scientist and deep child advocate, I have scrutinized and questioned our philosophy since its conception four years ago. It has stood up to every interaction, every decision and every single moment with students and staff.
Here’s the best part:
Just as students know without knowing, so do teachers.
In August, I challenged this staff to tell me details of our philosophy. They adhere to it day in and day out. I predicted they would not be able to recite the details, as they are very busy planning and growing as teachers. My hypothesis was mostly correct, except for Elizabeth who is a complete nerd, not one of them could recite or explain the structure of philosophy, yet they each, each and every day, practice philosophy. Why?
One would think they need to study it, or at least know it. But actually, I was thrilled that only our nerdy one knew. She really likes reading things. 😊
I was thrilled because these teachers do what they do with love. They support children. They listen to them. They nurture them. They provide. They allow. They try to say yes. And in this, they adhere to philosophy. They guide young humans and there is no option, when given the freedom to do so, but to meet and serve their individual needs.
What this long winded story tells us, is that our philosophy is first and foremost solid. Our kids have taught us what they need. We responded.
The biggest enemy of what kids need is what I like to call: The Grade Level Monster.
The Grade Level Monster has reared its ugly head in education for a hundred years.
Do all kids develop at the same rate? NO
Do kids each have the same aptitude or interest for all subject areas? NO
Do they need time to explore and converse and create. Obviously.
But the Grade Level Monster looms. He criticizes and compares and pits one child against another. He rips away natural development and individuality. He corrupts and makes parents fearful that their children might not be the wonderful beings they are. He makes parents doubt. He crushes or inflates children’s views of themselves. He creates anxiety in teachers and eliminates their ability to nurture, decide, and provide. He is my least favorite character in this story. So, he is not invited into Orsch’s story, or into Orsch’s philosophy, because he is NO GOOD.
The Grade Level Monster rules the Common Core Standards. He rules standardized tests (which is why we don’t give them). He currently rules the world of education and he is, unfortunately, getting stronger. He has stolen creativity, freedom, flexibility, and variety from America’s youth and it is getting worse out there.
If you are not in the know, please pay attention to what is happening in this country in the realm of K-12 education.
I don’t know what conversations took place behind closed doors on Western’s campus. I don’t hear negative things said by that very small group of people.
But I do hear incredibly positive remarks every day about this school. “This place is amazing!” “I wish I had gone to a school like this.” “These kids are so happy.” “Wow. They are well spoken.” “So polite.” “Thank you.” “They are incredibly confident.” “Our home lives have changed.” “The energy in here is amazing.”
I received the following email from a K-1 teacher from Creed who found Orsch on her own and requested an observation day with Miss Erin’s class on Tuesday.
THANK YOU! You were in the theater when I was leaving, and I stopped down there, but did not want to interrupt.
I appreciated getting to see Orsch in action. I’ll have to think about how to incorporate some of the things you do there into my public school setting. After checking out your website, I’d already begun to add more creativity, and got more ideas while there. Stephanie and Erin were so positive with the kids. While I always have a goal of saying “yes” more, I still hear myself saying “no” first, and then backing up, trying to make it a yes. They were both good about avoiding “no.”
Thanks again Jackie! You have a good thing going there. So much positive energy!
Everyone who has ever walked through these doors has commented. Many have stood watching in awe. The feeling, the “energy” if you will, is palpable. This school is teaming with productivity and life and community, and growth in social, emotional and academic skill and wisdom. An Orsch alumni recently came to poke her head in, touch base and say hi. She stood at the entrance to the great room and said, “I just love how human everyone is around here.”
I can’t imagine what one might say in opposition to this place if he/she really knew. As Ashley recently texted to me in one of my moments of despair, “Judge us on our merits, not on politics. It covers every problem we have ever had.”
I don’t know what was said the day Western turned its back, but I do know they’re missing out. And I do know that for six solid years in the planning, implementation and running of this school, I have upheld MY commitment to not speak one negative word about any other program, as well as having insisted our students do the same, and I will continue to do so.
I will now turn it over to Ashley 😊
I watched Jackie build this philosophy and curriculum over years. She would come home from teaching at RE1J full of ideas. Full of realizations about how kids learned best. It was exciting and heartbreaking. Exciting because I knew she was breaking important ground, heartbreaking because she had almost no opportunity to put it all to use in the environment she was in.
Then came the chance to build Orsch.
We struggled with the legal structure. We knew that a 501(c)3 non-profit would present lots of opportunities for funding and other resources. But we also knew that we needed to build Jackie’s vision, a vision of the future culture and flavor that no one else saw – she had to do it alone. So we chose to be a privately held LLC out of necessity. This made us nimble. This made us independent. This gave us the ability to react very quickly. This made Jackie autonomous – and that was key for the early days.
Since that time, the philosophy has been built. The culture has been constructed. The ideas have been shared. Not only do the students and teachers get it at a deep level, but so do you guys. The groundwork is in place, and so now the mission has changed. It has changed from building it to sustaining it. The current model is built to be nimble, but in being so, we have given up many opportunities available to the nonprofit world. Opportunities that can help with funding, with facilities, and with much more. It is time to change our structure so that we can access resources not previously available to us. It is time to become a nonprofit.
The details of the transition are still being constructed – but we are underway. Our next steps include building a board, and committees. These groups will be tasked with our three biggest challenges right off the bat. Facilities, tuition, and a budget. We have lots of historical data to help with this task – but some pieces will be different.
Jackie will now tell you about some of the short-term set up goals. Before I turn this back to Jackie, are there any questions regarding the big picture of why we need to make this shift?