Member Feature: Evolving My Dream

By Adena Koslek   

Tara self-portrait in shadows
Tara Burns: Self-Portrait in Shadows

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 as a founding member of the Leadership Team of Open Doors.

 

 

A Day inside Open Doors

One blustery morning last week, some teen members gathered at Open Doors, as they do regularly, to chat and learn together. Here’s a peek into the goings-on.

In a continuing class about the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, we saw footage of the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama, complete with high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs. It was sobering stuff.

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The personal finance class covered balancing one’s checkbook.  The teens had done some research at local banks to see how they could open checking accounts, so this was useful information to have as they take steps forward.

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In the Wild Edibles class we reviewed a few winter edibles.  We found out we can brew White Pine needles into a tea if we need a source of Vitamin C, though the taste might not measure up to a cuppa at your favorite coffee house.

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We also learned how to harvest the cambium of a fallen tree for a source of Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  The cambium is the sap-moving layer inside the bark, which can be gathered and dried to make a flour for simple cakes.

We wrapped up the day with Film Studies and a viewing of Brick, an early Rian Johnson film.  (You may know the name Rian Johnson from films like The Brothers Bloom and Loopers.)  Bruce, seated in the middle, is a local director and our passionate leader in the area of all things film.

Bruce and kids on Brick

Brick is film noir set in a modern L.A. high school.  Released in 2005, it stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt in one of his first serious roles after his 3rd Rock from The Sun fame.  As our members said afterwards, “Wow, a movie about high school that isn’t crap.  That’s amazing!” and “Emotions!  I’m having so many emotions after watching that!”  It was a compelling film, and the discussion of it this week promised to be just as world-expanding.

Swirling around the informal classes were conversations about video games, bullying, vacations, jobs, writing, and more.  It is such a joy to see our members engaged in their learning and their lives.  Come see for yourself.

Open houses are at noon on the second Monday of every month.

Evening fun events are at 7:00 p.m. on the third Thursday.

You can also call 616.965.6968, or come visit us when it’s convenient in Eastown at 1324 Lake Drive.

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