By Beverli Haroldsen

Once upon a wintertime, visions of baby chicks popped into the imagination of a sixteen-year-old student. These visions grew into ideas, which grew into conversations. Conversations transformed into plans which generated research and physical labor. The student spent hours researching chicken care and cleaning out an old chicken coop that was already on school property. Plans and budget requests were approved by the School Council, and heat lamps, straw, food, and other supplies were collected with great anticipation. One icy cold morning in January, ten eagerly awaited fluffy chicks popped out of the imaginary realm into our community’s reality.

We sometimes hear the question, “How will children be prepared for the ‘real world’ if they get to choose what to do all the time, or if they don’t learn such and such subject, or if nobody makes them do X?” The chicken project is just one example of how students routinely create their own reality here at AVA. What better preparation for the real world could there be than gaining skills to create your own reality and learning the lessons encountered along the way?

I interviewed Zach (16 yrs.) about the chicken project and he felt that responsibility, budgeting, and planning are the biggest lessons he learned. He confidently said, “I’m more responsible, having a schedule and something that I need to do.” This self-created reality isn’t free of challenges, though. Zach said his biggest challenge has been coming to school on the weekend to check the chicks, but although it’s challenging, he likes doing it. When asked about how this project applies to the real world, his immediate pragmatic response was, “We’ll get eggs from the chickens and make money for the school.”

Another example of students creating their own reality is the Treehouse.

A long time ago (about 2 years) in a galaxy far, far, not so far away….
It is a time of great self-directed learning. A powerful alliance has been formed. Three padawans unite to combat the Dark Side of gravity by building a treehouse. Using their power of the Force to overcome every obstacle, they transform their ideas into reality. In the prequel, they had organized a pizza fundraiser to go towards school field trips, but they present their new plans to the Jedi Council and win approval for funding their resistance. After many hours of working in the cantina to earn money, stocking their arsenal, training new recruits, and measuring, cutting, and building, the Treehouse becomes a reality to be utilized by future generations of Jedis—or Ewoks as the case may be.

In an interview with Ari, one of the padawans, she spoke of the strength of the alliance. “We didn’t have many teamwork challenges. We were all invested and got along well. We all wanted it to happen and we were excited for it.……We got into a pretty good routine in coordinating who had what job…….A lot of other people wanted to be involved, so we made a rotation so everyone could be a part of it. But the core group of people [Ari-15, Jevin-12, Arthur-15] who were really invested did most of the work.”

When asked about what challenges they faced, Ari replied, “It was kind of hard to keep track and budget all the money, but in the end it went pretty good…I think we made a few mistakes; we ran out of wood, and we were burnt out at the end of the school year, so [a Jedi Master] built a ladder.” According to Ari, the process of cutting, measuring, and making everything square and level was challenging, but was also one of the biggest lessons learned, along with teamwork, budgeting, and marketing the fundraiser.

On the real-world value of the project, Ari says, “It was fun to come up with an idea, make a plan, and finish it. It was the first big project I ever did. Also working with a team and finding people I was compatible with was really fun. I think it’s really important to find those people in your life that you work well with.” Spoiler Alert! In the sequel Ari is in manager training at her place of employment and is well on her way to becoming a Jedi Master.

The treehouse and chicken projects are just two examples of how self-directed education is great preparation for the “real world.” I’m excited to see how our students will help shape the future real world by choosing to create their own reality rather than becoming clones who are swept along in riptides of reality imposed by others.

Published April 12, 2021


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