Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Third Teacher In All Her Glory

When people ask me what "kind" of school we are, I have different answers depending on my mood or the circumstances. For instance, if a journalist wants to know, I'll say we're a progressive, play-based cooperative school, which is true. When a friend asks, however, I'll answer that we're a crunchy-granola, commie hippie school in the Center of the Universe, which is, I think, equally true.

At the heart of the answer, however, is that we're a school that makes it up as we go along, picking and choosing from a variety of pedagogies and curricula. We've been inspired by Waldorf (Steiner), Montessori, democratic free schools, outdoor schools, and just about everything else out there that is fundamentally about child-centered, child-lead education. And, of course, we've harvested a bounty from the Reggio Emilia model.

There is a lot to admire about Reggio, but the thing that I probably reflect upon every day is the metaphor of the three-legged stool of parent-teacher-environment. We're a cooperative school, so the parent leg, the "first teacher," is quite sturdy at Woodland Park. And as the lead teacher, the "second teacher," I like to think that I'm starting to get the hang of my role. And then there is the "third teacher": the environment.

I tend to define our "environment" as much broader than our actual facilities (like playground and classroom) to include such things as the operational the philosophical underpinnings of our school as well as the wider community in which we reside.

I'm not joking when I write that we are located in the Center of the Universe, the Seattle neighborhood of Fremont, a place where the odd and artistic are celebrated. I've written several times about our Summer Solstice Parade, our population of street people, and the art and industry that make our third teacher unlike any other. This is where we've chosen to raise our children. She is our third teacher.

Yesterday, our 3's class spent our entire day rambling about the neighborhood, some 20 of us with our adult chaperones, checking out the familiar art, ducking down the alleyways, and discovering things we'd never seen before. We peeked through the cracks of the plywood gate that still covers the building that last year was engulfed in a 5-alarm fire. We found several of the artifacts from the now-defuncted History House that have been distributed throughout the neighborhood, including the fiberglass orca whale. 

We found very quickly that the orca has not been attached to it's cradle. Together we were able to rock it like a large teeter totter.

We stopped along the ship canal, in the shadow of the topiary dinosaurs, for a snack, spotting, oddly, a NYPD police boat and a large working boat that was tall enough to cause the opening of the blue and orange Fremont drawbridge that was preceded by the fog horn sound that punctuates our school days. 

We posed at the bronze communist-era Lenin statue that stands only a couple blocks from the school and skirted the local modern capitalist-era Google and Adobe campuses. We discovered that someone has added a tiny chair on a pulley to the Tree Chairs, which we took turns making dance in the branches. 

The smell of the chocolate factory made us hungry and we contemplated swarming their retail store which, as many of the kids know, offers unlimited free samples, but then decided it would be rude to bring a whole school in there without at least first taking the official tour. We found an art car decorated with plastic daisies and toy soldiers hidden in the alley between the row of restaurants located in former residential houses and the strip of light industrial facilities. We finished off with a quick visit to The Troll who lives on our block under the Aurora Bridge.

I had anticipated that the ramble would consume perhaps an hour or so of our day, yet by the time we got back to the schoolyard parents had already arrived to pick up their kids. We saw and did a lot, yet there is so much more to do and see. And it's all right there at our doorstep, our third teacher in all her glory.

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Julie S said...

Your third teacher is one of my favorite places in Seattle. When my kids were little we used to frequently venture there from Edmonds to roam the streets. What a wonderful place to have a school and raise a family!

Unknown said...

When people ask me what "kind" of school we are, I have different answers depending on my mood or the circumstances.

5th Class Result 2016