(Save the date: Open House on Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. More below.)
We’re so pleased to start our Fall 2014 Semester with some amazing teens.
During this first couple of weeks, the teens can attend any class they want — this helps them judge whether a class is a fit for their learning goals or not. Then we can settle on a schedule for the rest of the semester. Options for classes include Mechanical Autopsy, Film Studies, Powerful Possibilites (a Political Science class), and more. (Click on a class below to see the full title.)
We have teens from very different backgrounds, and so we’ve already had opportunities to talk over differences, clarify everyone’s comfort zone, and reach out to make amends. It’s not always easy, but at Open Doors, resolving communication issues is a major part of the learning.
Our next Open House will be Friday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m. — come see for yourself! We’ll be hosting in partnership with our neighbor Continuum Healing and their potluck dinner. You can tour the center, ask questions of the staff, look at example learning plans, and see our members’ work and class materials.
This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.
Check out our fun interview with Shelley Irwin of the WGVU Morning Show. You’ll hear about Rebecca’s journey and the founding of Open Doors. It was such a pleasure to talk to Shelley — she’s always a joy.
I am in awe of the tremendous growth I have seen in my son Tristan after his first year at Open Doors. He started the year very reserved and hesitant to get involved, which is true to his public persona. (Or at least it was!)
He tended to avoid situations that could potentially be embarrassing. He spent the first semester asking to be picked up immediately after his Biology class and wanted absolutely nothing to do with any activity in which he might feel the need to “share” anything – verbally or otherwise. He politely refused to have his picture taken and added to the website.
The staff and members of Open Doors respected these things completely. (I am confident a school would have seen this as a “problem” to address.) Rebecca and Adena did a great job of offering him ways to participate and contribute individually – painting a much needed sign, helping to move things, inviting him to meetings about fracking, etc – which gave him the space he needed to “warm up” while still feeling that he was vital to the center.
Ever so slowly, he started asking to be picked up later and later. He stayed to hang out and explore other classes. He chattered about film studies and foraging. He told me about sharing his theory of fluctuations in the stock market being related to fears of the “blood moon” with his finance class. He loved to tell me about conversations he had with the other members about their hobbies.
By the end of the year, my reserved kiddo was cracking jokes and showing off his juggling and hula-hooping skills at the end of year celebration in front of all of the members and their families. My heart sang that night.
As a parent, you want your child to shine to the world as much as they do when no one is watching; to be their true selves, no matter the situation. I am positive that if it were not for the respect and room to grow given by everyone at Open Doors, the world would never know the funny, bright and confident Tristan that I do. And that would be a shame.
A special thank you, Open Doors, for the letter you sent at the end of the year. Your insights about Tristan were spot-on and it made me feel awesome to see that you really know him and are acutely aware of his needs. It was so much better than a report card.
As a quick Google search revealed, there are a slew of Internet articles about how to handle boredom in your teens this summer. They suggest organizing your young person’s time, making sure they get up everyday, and limiting “screen time.” Though we can understand the concern that teens will curl up in their bedrooms with the blinds down, watching TV all summer, all these suggestions deal only with surface issues. Our culture has a long way to go when it comes to delving into what boredom really is for a teen and what it could mean for them.
1. Ask and listen.
We at Open Doors have noticed that “I’m bored” can actually mean a lot of things. Think about how boredom feels. It can feel restless and discontent — or it can feel lethargic or even despairing. If we can help our teens explore that, we can find the deeper truth underneath.
For instance, complaining about being bored often means is that a teen is looking for connection with a person they care about. They may be feeling disenchanted with the world and need help finding their inner spark again. They may mean that they have lots of half-formed ideas about their next direction, but they need help sorting them out. And many teens are remembering the playfulness of their younger days, and wishing for a way to recapture it. Only when you know the deeper need underneath the complaint can you work towards a solution that really fits.
Also, keep in mind that what a parent is seeing may not be what the teen is experiencing. If the same video game has been on for hours, check in and see what it means. The teen may be really enjoying the challenge and the chance to immerse herself in it. Or she may be feeling disconnected and unsure what else to do. Ask with an open mind, and listen carefully to the response to make sure you understand.
If you don’t feel able to connect with your teen in this way, that’s okay. Many parents were not treated with this kind of respect when they were young, and they find it hard to do so with their own kids. At Open Doors, we may be able to help with our Summer Art Program. No art experience is required, and your teen can participate as much or as little as they’d like. We can help them connect and sort things out — not to mention having a lot of fun along the way.
2. Be open to exploration.
For a parent, it can feel so different when a teen who was up early every day for school and activities starts sleeping later into the sunshine hours. But exploring a new sleep schedule can mean exploring the feeling up being up at night, when the world is quiet and the night sky invites reflection. It can mean the kind of intense half-awake dreaming that comes with dozing in the sunlight from the window. Our culture doesn’t value the rich inner life that can be explored by spending some time just “vegging,” but it’s there, and exploring it is an important part of teen development.
Our Summer Program has flexible hours so that night owls can sleep in and still connect with others in a gentle space that honors their journey.
3. Don’t compare.
It can be easy to comment, loudly, that the neighbor’s teens seem to be industriously running their own lawn mowing business, and hey, they’re not bored. Resist the urge. Every teen has his or her own journey, and you have no idea what’s going on behind-the-scenes in that neighbor’s home.
If you find yourself tempted to compare, re-focus on connecting, exploring, and playing.
4. Be playful.
As we mentioned in the first tip, many teens feel torn about growing up. That’s a natural part of the process, and it encourages us to bring the best aspects of childhood — playfulness, spontaneity, laughter, creativity, and our honest emotions — into our more adult lives. Model your own playfulness, and look for ways to support playfulness in your teen — whether she is with friends, family, or engaged in an activity. Play is such a revitalizing part of life.
At the Open Doors Summer Art Program, we look for ways to bring play and creativity into community life. We believe that a lot of adults would be more fulfilled if they found ways to integrate the childlike into their lives, and so we use all kinds of art as a medium for helping our young adults do so.
This post is part of our “Your Life – Your Learning!” series, designed to help the Grand Rapids community rethink teen learning, and brought to you with support from the Wege Foundation.
In the extended quote below, John Holt speaks mostly of young children. While reading it, you could replace each instance of “little child” or “small child” with “teen.” Teens carry with them their sense of the wholeness of life, even as they navigate their new ability to think abstractly, even as they explore their new and bigger bodies, even as they face their transition into adult responsibility. Here’s the quote:
My grandfather used to say of certain people, “Know nothing, fear nothing.” We tend to think of this of little children. We see their long-run fearlessness, their hopefulness, as nothing but ignorance, a disease of which experience will cure them. With what cynicism, bitterness, and even malice we say, “They’ll learn, they’ll find out what life is soon enough.” And many of us try to help that process along.
But the small child’s sense of the wholeness and openness of life is not a disease, but his most human trait. It is above all else what makes it possible for him—or anyone else—to grow and learn. Without it, our ancestors would never have come down out of the trees.
The young child knows that bigger people know more about he world than he does. How they feel about it affects, and in time may determine, how he feels about it. If it looks good to them, it will to him.
The young child counts on the bigger people to tell him what the world is like. He needs to feel that they are honest with him, and that, because they will protect him from real dangers that he does not know or cannot imagine, he can explore safely.
We can only grow from where we are, and when we know where we are, and when we feel that we are in a safe place, on solid ground.
We cannot be made to grow in someone else’s way, or even made to grow at all. We can only grow when and because we want to, for our own reasons, in whatever ways seem most interesting, exciting, and helpful to us. We have not just thoughts but feelings about ourselves, our world, and the world outside our world. These feeling strongly affect and build on each other. They determine how we grow into the world, and whether we can grow into it.”
Consider the story of the famous Spanish bullfighter, Manolete (1917 – 1947), whose life was the subject of the 2008 film The Passion Within (UK) starring Adrien Brody. No matter what you think of bullfighting, the story of Manolete’s calling has some interesting things to say about the journey of self-directed learning.
Born Manuel Laureano Rodríguez Sánchez, Manolete would grow up to change the face of bullfighting, inventing new methods and revitalizing the ideals of el corrida de toros, which some would say holds the soul of Spain. And yet, Manolete was a timid and fearful boy.
Delicate and sickly, having almost died of pneumonia when he was two, little Manuel was interested only in painting and reading. He stayed so much indoors and clung so tightly to his mother’s apron strings that his sisters and other children used to tease him. Around his hometown, he was known as “a thin, melancholy boy who wandered around the streets after school lost in thought. He rarely join other boys’ games of soccer or playing at bullfighting.” This all changed “when he was about eleven, and nothing else mattered much except the bulls.”
– Barnaby Conrad, The Death of Manolete
As James Hillman tells it, “at his first corrida, Manolete, hardly out of short pants, stands his ground without moving a foot — and does in fact suffer a groin wound, which he regards diffidently, refusing to be helped home to Mother, so as to return with the comrades with whom he came.”
Was a dim knowledge of the call there all along? Then of course little boy Manolete was afraid and clung to his mother. Of course he kept away from torero games in the street, taking shelter in the kitchen. How could this nine-year-old boy stand up to his destiny? In [the acorn of his soul] were thousand-pound black bulls with razor-sharpened horns thundering toward him, among them Islero, the one that gored him through groin and belly and gave him death at age thirty and the largest funeral every witnessed in Spain?
… Manolete exhibits a basic fact: the frail competencies of a child are not equal to the demands of their daimon [or destiny]. Children are inherently ahead of themselves, even if they are given low grades and held back. One way for the child is to race ahead, as in the famous cases of Mozart and other “infant prodigies” who benefit from good guidance. Another way is to shrink back and hold the daimon [or destiny] at bay, as did Manolete in his mother’s kitchen.
James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling
At Open Doors, our teens do come to us with their code written deeply into their souls, their calling hidden among the glimpses we get of their passions, fears, and dearly-held opinions. It is up to us, the adults, to listen and to become a student of that code. Come to our events to find out how we help teens discover who they really are.
In this interview, Tara Burns sat with me and shared her experience since she opted out of her old high school and jumped into the self-directed approach of the Open Doors Center for Self-Directed Learning. Tara is a teen who went on a quest in the summer of 2013 to find out who she could become without the distractions of traditional school, something her experience told her “didn’t quite fit with what she was feeling within.” It was so pleasing to hear of her empowering experience at Open Doors. Tara went from having low attendance and low grades in her traditional school setting to feeling pangs of guilt if she ever has to miss a single class at Open Doors.
The insight gained by her self-directed studies has helped Tara discover what had long been her inner dream: to become an Art Therapist. Tara’s confidence has increased now that she has a specific direction in life: not only does it feel great, but she is pleased that the outcome is going to benefit others. Within six months of being at Open Doors, Tara is able to take significant steps to begin actualizing her desired future. With assistance from Rebecca Kirk, the Director of Open Doors, she’s been developing a Personal Learning Plan which includes setting up interviews and internship possibilities to help her learn and grow in the direction of her dream.
Here’s the interview:
Adena: Who do you feel you were when you began at Open Doors?
Tara: I didn’t know. But, I was excited. It felt like new things and opportunities in life were happening. High School was feeling really “out of reach” for me after freshman year. It felt impossible. I tried Online Schooling but that wasn’t fun.
Adena: What was the biggest need that was not being met in your traditional school setting?
Tara: It felt like subjects were being pushed. Like, we would start something I was interested in and then we would change the topic in a couple days and begin talking about things I wasn’t really interested in. I really wanted to keep studying the subject I was interested in more deeply.
Adena: What are some of the classes you are taking now and your opinions of them?
Tara: I am learning a lot in all my classes. I know we don’t do grades here, but (giggle) I would give me an A in every one of them. (We both laughed.) I like the U.S. History Class because I am really drawn to learning about Civil Rights and we are really staying focused on that because that’s what the class members want. Personal Finance is interesting because when I took the little test on “what I knew” before the class started it was interesting to see what the answers to things like ‘saving’, ‘taking care of yourself’ and ‘paying bills’ really were. And I love my Film Studies class. I am also learning some really neat things in a class called Stalking The Wild Asparagus which teaches about wild edibles. I also take a Non-Violent Communication class with many of the adult members, and a Feeling and Critical Thinking class; both of which are very helpful when considering the direction I want to continue to take with Art Therapy.
Adena: Is Open Doors satisfying you as your needs grow and evolve?
Tara: Yes. I feel more freedom creatively and I like knowing where I take my education is my responsibility.
Adena: In order to opt out of traditional school and take the challenge to become Self-Directed here at Open Doors, a member must become homeschooled under the law. When your family first learned of this, how did they feel?
Tara: Excited for something new. My mom was very skeptical. It wasn’t until after our first meeting with Rebecca that she really began to feel more settled. It’s not what people might think.
Adena: What did you want to do with your life when you came to Open Doors and has that changed?
Tara: I couldn’t really say when I came here, but I knew I felt “Art Therapy.” I could sorta feeeel it inside me as an idea. Not really a concrete reality. It wasn’t until Open Doors members helped me learn how to research those things that I learned it was a real job! Art in my old high school was mostly me sitting with a group of kids who really didn’t care about art. It was a lot of talk about drugs and whatever their homework was for another class, but never art the way I wanted to learn about it. I don’t even think the art teacher knew my name. I’m pretty sure she called me by a completely different name during conferences.
After the interview, Tara got back to her projects and I to mine. At Open Doors we are pleased about the versatility that the timeless clock offers us and the great pleasure it brings to work with teens who simply need some respect and the opportunity to learn in their own unique way.
Adena Koslek is an Instructor and Teen Coach, as well asa foundingmember of the Leadership Teamof Open Doors.
Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob was diagnosed with autism when he was 2, and doctors said he would never speak. She tried special education programs and therapies aimed at addressing his limitations. When teachers told her there was no hope, she rebelled and took her own path.
“A lot of people thought that I had lost my mind,” she recalls.
Instead of focusing on Jacob’s limitations, Kristine nurtured his interests. Now her 15-year-old son is on track to win a Nobel Prize for his work in theoretical physics.
Relying on the insights she developed at her in-home daycare, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s “spark” — his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could? This philosophy, along with her belief in the power of childhood play, helped her son grow in incredible ways.
This is our approach at Open Doors. We focus on what your teen loves — that passion will lead to a world of learning! We can’t guarantee a Nobel Prize in Physics, but we can help your teen become happier, more confident, and more fulfilled in his or her learning.
Here’s one experience of self-directed learning, from a friend of Open Doors in Warwick, NY:
Warwick residents Ava Burgos, 19, and Calvin Linn, 21, are settling back into Warwick this month, following a four-month-long gap year experience on a tropical fruit farm on Maui. For these two young people, it was like life in paradise — in close community with other young people (all living in permanent tents on platforms!), cooking together each day, excellent food supplied by the farm’s owners, and every day recreational opportunities like a nearby Hawaiian beach or mountain volcano!
“When I started looking at farms on www.Helpx.net for my gap year, I thought I’d go to California,” said Ava. “Then I thought, well, why not Hawaii? And when I found Huelo Lookout Fruit Stand on Maui, I knew it was really a dream come true.”
The pair worked each day for six hours at the fruit and souvenir stand by the side of the only highway one the northeast side of Maui, near a lookout point where many tourists stopped. Each day, they set up the portable stand, put out all the fruit, and made smoothies for their guests, using a machete to cut up pineapples and coconuts fresh from the farm.
At the farm on the Hana Highway, Ava and Calvin experienced group living with other young people from all over the world, including China, New Zealand, Portugal and France.
“The best thing about it has been meeting a whole new group of people, plus the warm weather, and being so close to the beach!” said Calvin.
Over Christmas, Ava’s mother visited, and Ava and Calvin baked dozens and dozens of hand-cut gingerbread cookies to share with the community.
Ava and Calvin planned and worked to save for their gap-year adventure for more than a year, working several jobs so they could fulfill their dream of travel that broadened their horizons and their futures.
As the American Gap Association has defined it, a gap year is: “A structured period of time when students take a break from formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and experiment with possible careers. A gap year experience can last from two months up to two years, and typically combines travel, volunteering, interning or working.”
Ava chose the concept of a gap year to make her self-directed learning experiences more accessible to friends and family who could stretch their minds that far. The gap year concept also seems to work for her because it allowed her to think in terms of travel, which is one of her passions. She stayed in touch with home and friends via Facebook and Twitter each day, and that is helping her make an easier transition back to her Warwick life now.
Students who have taken a gap year overwhelmingly report being satisfied with their jobs and careers, according to an independent study of 280 gap year students by the American Gap Association. In another study, 88 percent reported that the experience had significantly added to their appeal for employers.
Though the gap year concept is just being discovered in the U.S., it is much more popular in Australia, where 11% of high school graduates take one, and in the UK, where 9% do (including both Princes William and Harry).
At Open Doors, this is the kind of adventure and fun we advocate for young adults so they can build self-knowledge and gain experience of with the real world outside of the structure of school. Come see your yourself at one of our events!