The first day of our third cycle was bittersweet.

The sweet: Being able to be together again for the third of eleven planned cycles for this academic-plandemic year is something to celebrate. Just last week, a record 61,000 children got Covid-19 last week. Pediatric cases have gone from 2% of all cases in the United States in April to 11%, now. Bringing students, teachers, and staff together indoors will contribute to the spread of Covid-19 within the school community, but school members will take Covid-19 back into their homes and into their local communities. Reopening schools is contributing to the harm of the pandemic. To protect the Abrome community, and the Central Texas community, we decided to take Abrome outdoors, in small, physically distant cells of no more than seven Learners, each. We knew that doing so would be challenging for some Learners because of unfavorable weather (e.g., rain, heat, cold) and lack of the comforts of being indoors (e.g., air conditioning, heating, electricity), as well as for some families as they needed to drive longer distances to drop their Learners off at various public spaces. We also knew that our approach would make it more challenging to bring in new Learners when so many are looking for either an in-school (sometimes without masks) or a remote option. So by having all of our Learners able to come together with us as we started our third cycle, and having real hope that we will begin adding more Learners soon, day 31 was sweet.

The bitter: Unfortunately, as we started the third cycle of the year we did so without Facilitator Jennifer, who has decided move on from Abrome to find opportunities that are a better fit for them. Losing Jennifer is tough, as they have been such a force in helping us improve our culture and prepare us for growth during the pandemic in a way that will help us be a safer place for all children well into the future. Facilitator Lauren and I both decided that we would make space for Learners to process the news on Monday, as well as throughout the week. We hope that Jennifer will be able to come back and visit us, and celebrate with us as our community continues to grow stronger thanks in part to the contributions they made.

The day: This cycle I have seven Learners in my cell. Five of the Learners I have had in my cell before, and two of them are in my cell for the first time. I am excited to get to spend time for the first time with the two new Learners who joined Abrome in September. The cell has Learners who range in age from six to eighteen, with four boys and three girls, and two sets of siblings. They come from the local neighborhood, Austin, Bee Cave, and Lakeway.

As the Learners joined me at the drop-off location they filled out their intentions. There was a mix of excitement and anxiety as some Learners met each other for the first time. The intentions were varied: don’t be cold, explore new space, play games, listen to music, don’t die, play with toys, meet new peoples, write, nothing, drink water, stay off phone, work on comic book, eat, chill, eat, chill, play, relax, and work on comic book. When we all arrived I suggested that we move elsewhere for our morning meeting considering that some folks have gotten chigger bites at that location in the past, and the group decided that we would go to a nice grassy area under a bunch of large pecan trees.

The best seats in the house!

The best seats in the house!

At the pecan trees we spread out and began a long morning meeting. We started with introductions and some get to know you questions. We spoke about Jennifer’s departure and provided an opportunity for Learners to share their feelings. Then we covered safety boundaries. We also discussed our needs as individuals and as a group, our intentions as individuals and as a group, and practices we wanted to focus on (masking, social distancing, and drinking water). When the meeting was over the Learners all gravitated toward the lake. Immediately two of the older Learners climbed up onto the roof of the dock, and then a young Learner followed behind. At the top the young Learner got to play some games on the phone of one of the older Learners who he just met an hour ago. Another younger Learner scaled up toward the roof several times but always stopped just shy of getting to the top due to fear. I expect that this fear will be overcome later this week.

Navigating the wall

Navigating the wall

I set up my chair in the field under a tree, while another Learner set up under a cypress tree nearby and began working on her comics, which she did for the full day. The younger Learner came back down from roof of the dock and found his way to the sandy beach area where he began to dig with his hands. He assured me that he could dig a very deep hole, and then proceeded to prove it to me. This drew out the other younger Learner who also began digging aggressively. They then eventually moved on to navigating across the most treacherous part of the retaining wall where it slopes toward the lake at a 45 degree angle. Two of the older Learners came over and borrowed a walkie talkie to go on a walk together.

An older Learner came over and engaged me in a conversation that lasted an hour. We discussed a wide variety of topics, from the very personal to reality television. At the end of the conversation she said that she had hoped to get her driver’s license and I asked what was stopping her. She said she did not know where to start and I suggested she go to the Texas Department of Public Safety website where the information was listed. She thanked me and left.

The two Learners who went on a walk returned, and told me that they had collected and ate a bunch of pecans while on their walk. I asked how their stomachs felt, and they said that they felt fine. I saw one of the new Learners doing somersaults and other routines in the middle of the field, so I asked her, have you taken gymnastics lessons? She said she had, as well as her brother. We had a short conversation about that, and got to get to know each other a little bit before she went back to the dock to listen into what the teenagers were talking about.

At some point one of the Learners came over toward me and said, “Antonio, I need to talk to you about something.” He said that he noticed his sister was looking up how to get a driver’s license, and he wanted to get started on the process as well, and he wanted to know how to do so. We talked briefly about looking it up online, he searched for TXDPS on his phone, and found the link that would take him through the steps needed.

Although the day started out cold (it was 45 degrees on my morning run), by mid-afternoon it was feeling pretty warm, with the sun beating down on us. I did not bring a towel to jump in the water as I assumed I would be too busy during the day, but a younger Learner asked if he could jump in, and he jumped in. Several Learners said they would possibly jump in on Tuesday.

Then I got a call from the mom of two prospective Learners. Having time to take the call, I chatted with her for over a half an hour about how we prioritize the autonomy of children over the adultish and schoolish ways of manipulating children, our approach to the pandemic, whether it is ever too late in a young person’s academic career to embrace Self-Directed Education, and the current space we had for new Learners. It was a really wonderful conversation, as it seems that the family is ready to embrace a more liberatory path for their children. When I hung up the phone it was clear that several of the Learners were zeroed in on me. One of them asked, “are we adding to the army?” I laughed, and said maybe, but maybe we could not consider ourselves an army. Let’s build our community instead of fighting with others.

At the afternoon roundup we shared what the best part of our day was, something that we learned that day, how we did on the practices we raised earlier that day, and we got a thumb check on how the day went overall. The funniest lesson learned that day was that it is a good idea not to walk to the bathroom barefoot because it is surrounded by sticker burs. The most moving lesson learned was from the Learner I spent an hour talking with earlier in the day. She said that for the first time, she could finally accept who she is. That was definitely the sweetest part of the day.

Scaling the fence

Scaling the fence