By Deirdre Cassidy
I read with sadness that the Methow Valley Community School was closing its door after 18 years of offering families an alternative in education in the valley. I worked at the community school for 13 of those years — I believe I was the longest-lasting teacher at the school. Those were some of the most-challenging years in my career as a teacher but the most gratifying by far. Here are some of the highlights for me as a teacher at the community school.
Every morning each “crew” — a combination of grades — would stand in a circle, greet everyone by their name, sing songs (what a fun way to wake up!) and recite, “We come together as a group of learners, we recognize our feelings, we recognize our differences, we celebrate the work and the work of others.”
Each year we would choose a theme. The entire school would base all the learning around the theme. Math, science, art, reading, etc. I know … plastic is a weird theme. But the students went before the Twisp and Winthrop town councils and presented their research supporting a ban on single-use plastic bags in the Methow Valley. Perhaps one of those students will convince our valley we don’t need them!
Our annual holiday performance reflected the theme in an all-school play. Everyone had a part. Students would help paint backdrops, make costumes, sing songs and choreograph dances. At times, they even wrote the play. Many people came to the performance. It was quite intimidating actually, but the students always rose to the occasion.
Every Friday was outdoor education day. Again, the theme was woven into the outings visiting local professionals, musicians, artists, farms, the recycling center, the U.S. Forest Service, etc. They learned so much and were inspired from our valley’s treasures.
Every fall we would spend days and sometimes, in the older grades, a week on an adventure. During this time together, the students would develop the “norms” (rules) of how they plan to treat each other and teachers for the school year. Friendships between one another developed during these outings. We backpacked to Harts Pass, Shi Shi beach on the Olympic Peninsula, and canoed on Ross Lake to mention a few of the adventures.
Every year we presented The Blue Bell Cafe. Boy, was that fun! The students applied for jobs, learned cooking and serving skills, etiquette, designed their own T-shirts, and had an authentic audience to serve the food to at the cafe. Who knows, maybe one of those students will open their own restaurant one day.
The class sizes were small. I don’t think we had a crew of more than 18 students while I was there. Most were smaller than that. (In comparison, I plan to do a residency with the fourth-graders this year through Methow Arts as I have for the last few years. This year I will have 28 students! Yikes!)
Parents were actively involved in the students’ learning by mentoring, being on the board of directors, transportation, and helping in the classroom.
We had a sequential art program first through sixth grade. Students had two hours of themed based art class a week.
The daring parents who began the school in 2000 worked hard and took a leap of faith the school would take off. Who would have ever thought it would have lasted 18 years! There were people from all walks of life at the school. Everyone was welcome regardless of income.
I’m grateful to all of the families, teachers and children that I had the pleasure to get to know and who became lifelong friends. I taught, laughed and learned with fabulous teachers. I can’t help but give the grown-up students I taught huge hugs when I run into them. I see their names in the newspaper as valedictorians, athletes, on honor lists, playing music and starring in plays. They impacted my life and I hope I did the same for them. The last “crew” I had is graduating from Liberty Bell this year. Isn’t that fitting?
I hope someone will pick up the pieces and begin again. Our public school is doing an amazing job. I support public education and I would never want it to disappear. I think the community school improved the public school in our valley. The standard was set high and they met the challenge. I also believe choice is positive. In the end, we all want safe, quality education for all our children. I believe we can achieve this with a balance of public and private education.
Deirdre Cassidy is the program manager for Methow At Home.