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Mixin' in the Village Gravy by Amy Magnusbulldog brave

BLOG-B is for Brave

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Getting my daughter out of bed this summer was a daily challenge. Imagine my surprise and delight when she threw off her sheets Friday morning and, chipper than a chickadee, set about the business of getting ready for school. As a Mills Lawn second grader, she knows Friday as Bulldog Spirit Day. She shook out her bulldog t-shirt for the occasion, dressed all in blue, brushed her long hair free of tangles, and let me weave two braids as she downed breakfast. Wait, is this my daughter?

We did have one bad moment. Outside rain poured. Inside mom soured as my seven year old explained the honest-to-God appropriateness of swim sandals for a wet mile-long hike through the village. She half-appeased, half-defied me by switching to a pair of last year’s rain boots. Waving off my warnings, she forced her bare feet into the rubber sleeves and—only part way into them—paraded the kitchen on tiptoe as if wearing 3-inch heels. My mood darkened like an ominous cloud gathering static until, with a thunder clap, I snapped. “Five minutes!” I bellowed the warning order at full volume and stormed out the door in my thick hiking boots.

umbrellaheading to new classroom

Once on the front porch, I was greeted by a roll of real thunder. Disappointed with my own impatience and the weather turned dangerous, I signed deeply and went back inside. In my short breather outside, my daughter had slipped into a pair of canvas tennis shoes. I looked down at them, plotting anew, as I apologized and up again as she pardoned me. Mother Nature was not so graciously forgiven. Together we let go our original intention of walking to school and formed a new plan: Drive to Tom’s Market, pick up a couple of supply items for her second grade classroom, and walk the short city block to Mills Lawn School from Tom’s.

Though we failed to keep an eye on the time, we lucked into a sensible pace and executed our swiftly altered agenda in a timely manner. We reached the school at 8:05am and, with greater difficulty, crossed the last few yards to her classroom before 8:10am. Resisitng the pulling current of arriving families, I took pictures of our second grader at the front entrance and we made inside. Though bustling with movement, the hallway had an abandoned look. The walls were the washed out yellow of an entirely blank canvas, stripped of last year’s many accomplishments. Long empty clotheslines—dotted with wooden pins—bowed from the ceiling. We greeted Mrs Hoover—my daughter’s new teacher—at the door of her classroom, and she guided us through the morning ritual. [Designate packer or buyer for lunch. Drop off paperwork. Hang up your backpack. Find your seat.] Mrs Hoover made a few kind suggestions about how to spend the time before announcements, “You can pick out a book and read, or talk quietly with a neighbor, or sit back and enjoy the room.” The five student tables formed a wide arch in the room. Each table sat four children, and in each table’s center was a tub full of books. Half of the class had arrived in front of us. Many had already chosen a book to read. My daughter found two free hooks for her backpack and a buddy’s along the coat wall and—after the friendly exchange of a hip check—met me back at her seat. Curious about the reading level, I flipped through titles when an eager hand shot out to capture a Curious George book. I smiled at our similar tastes. I had found a striking book on snakes for myself when the morning announcements commenced. I stayed through the broadcast, long enough to listen to the children solve the coded message at the end of the morning broadcast: “Zelcome jack ko Dills Hawn, yulldogs. Cet four mpirit bn!”


A parent coffee was underway in the school cafeteria, and art teacher Amy Minehart turned me in its direction. At the assembly, Principal Matt Housh presented the state of the elementary school and engaged the new and returning parents in discussion. He characterized the year ahead as a time of discovery, not just for the students but for the entire community. In the conversation that school staff were having with the state, enrolled families, and like minded schools, Principal Housh stressed the most important voices were the children’s.

Principal Housh explains Project Based LearningpawPring

To give a child voice is one thing. To give that voice depth and resonance is something more. In his state of the school address, Principal Housh called out the overarching principles of fearless thinking that make Mills Lawn School a unique learning experience: student voice and ownership, academic and intellectual rigor, global change agent, and authentic projects. His intent is to escape the drudgery of traditional educational methods which present knowledge as a weakly linked facts and formulas—a parade of poorly knit afghans gifted to bewildered children and promptly stored in the attic. In project based learning, passive listening gives way to active collaboration. The children welcome the chance to use authentic “adult” tools as they knit together solutions to interesting problems of relevance and weight.

What’s more, the children learn in parallel. We tend to prioritize what we learn a subject by the order we learn it in biasing either the very first or the very last. An alternate approach when brokered by a teacher in series are easily dismissed as superfluous. Efforts performed in parallel open up opportunities for innovation. The children witness the discovery of parallel ideas and find that methods may diverge but still retain equal value. The children gain technical competency through the hands-on experiences of doing for themselves and the accessible models of peers. Further, the children hone social skills by negotiating their accomplishments using a variety of perspectives.


Ideas like the the six thinking hats—process, data, intuition, synthesis, accomplishments, cautions—allow students to discover in parallel. They learn that many paths have equal value. They come to appreciate that some things are hard and some things are easy but the breakdown of these things is very different, person to person. They learn the value of their individual uniqueness outside the claustrophobic conforming force of the traditional school.

The traditional school is all that most parents know, however. For parents like me who feel that we are going back to school, not just out child, the coffee was a welcome exchange and an invitation. Principal Housh summed up the social culture of the Mills Lawn classrooms in code: Be fearless, Resourceful, Accountable, Valuable, and Excellent. What I heard rang in my own heart. Be Bulldog BRAVE.


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