Day 61 was the last Monday of the fourth cycle of the Abrome pandacademic year. It was also the first day of winter. In the morning meeting I asked the remote cell, how will you celebrate the 1st day of winter? They responded with make apple sauce and winter ornaments, breathe, I don’t know, nothing special, and blinking a couple of times. Clearly first day is not that big a deal to the folks in the remote cell. As for me, I was going to enjoy the nice balmy first day of winter weather with a trip to the area where the in-person cell was spending their day so I could take some video of them from afar, as well as drop off some cards. But before we ended our call we discussed ways that we could welcome the Learners from the in-person cell if they were forced to go remote, tomorrow.

I stayed in touch with Facilitators Ariel and Lauren so that I could find them when I arrived at their location. They were both relatively close to each other and did not hike very far, so I found them pretty quickly. Several of the Learners saw me before I saw them and came over to talk to me. I had to request that they keep plenty of distance from me since I was not in their cell. I was able to hand off holiday cards to Facilitators Ariel and Lauren, as well as a birthday card for a shadower who would be turning 14-years-old over the holiday break. I then tried to get the drone to work, which was not that easy since the iPad I was using apparently did a software update overnight and it was asking me for a password I did not know. As I plodded my way through that experience I tried answering some of the questions from the Learners, but it is virtually impossible to give full attention to a conversation when dorking around with emails, passwords, and technology challenges.

As the Facilitators and Learners fanned back out I was able to get the drone up in the air to film the Learners in action. The adolescent Learners were hanging out near a climbing wall talking, so I maneuvered the drone toward the younger Learners who were scaling the walls of the canyon like mountain goats. I was surprised at how agile the Learners were in scaling the rocks, and it was clear that they had had plenty of practice over the prior two weeks. I had only planned to stick around for about a half an hour as I needed to get back for a Check-in and Chat with an Abrome family and for offerings that I was hosting, so I pulled the drone out of the sky as quickly as possible so I could get on my way.

At that point one of the shadowers came up to me and told me that she wanted to go home early. I asked her why, and she said that she was bored and not learning anything. Also that the outdoor experience was too tiring for her. I asked her if she had an understanding of what Self-Directed Education was, and what the deschooling process entailed. She said that she did, and that she likes freedom, but that she felt that she really needed more guidance from teachers who would tell her what to do. At that point I acknowledged her stated needs, as Learners who have been schooled for a decade can sometimes find deschooling during the shift to SDE hard to grasp, and uncomfortable. I was only seeing her for a moment, but it was clear that the shadow period worked as it should for this Learner in highlighting that Abrome was not the schooling experience that she wanted. I told her that it was a shame that that was the only time I was going to get to meet her in-person, and that I wished her the best of luck if that was the last day that she was going to be at Abrome.

When I got home I wrote up a quick email to her and her family. I reiterated how important the shadow period is for us:

“We value the shadow experience precisely so that prospective Learners know what Abrome is, and we understand that not everyone will like what they see. It allows us to go into a true partnership well informed about what learning and community will look like at Abrome for the Learner.” 

I then encouraged them to review the webinar that we previously shared with them so that they could revisit what Self-Directed Education is, and what it means to deschool. I also shared the following passage from Akilah S. Richard’s Raising Free People to highlight that what we are doing goes beyond schooling, which the shadower suggested she was looking for: 

“… I am constantly learning about myself, putting habits and ideas away and claiming or reclaiming others, as a result of my growing understanding of my way of learning and of managing my emotions and relationships. This—not leniency and a really fun curriculum—is what unschooling means and what it facilitates when you learn how to tap into it. It is a literal act—to consciously and logistically remove schools and classrooms as a child’s primary space for learning and socializing. More than that, it is an entire approach to life and relationships. In that approach is a constant growing and sharpening of the by-products of anti-oppressive, personally driven learning: self-knowledge and healthy self-determination, safe relationship building, socially just leadership and collaboration, curiosity,and genuine joy.”

The shadower’s family said that they would pick her up early, so Facilitator Lauren walked her back to the drop-off point. As they waited, Facilitator Lauren invited her to paint with her, and the other shadower and an adolescent Learner came up to the drop-off point and joined in. When her guardian came to pick her up, he said that they were really proud of her for giving the shadow experience a chance.

Much of the day was spent scaling the walls of the canyon

Much of the day was spent scaling the walls of the canyon

Back at the in-person cell the other shadower and the adolescent Learner expressed their disappointment that the shadow period did not work out for the prospective Learner. They knew that the Self-Directed Education environment gets stronger as the community grows, and as adolescents, they would have also benefited from having another teen around. The two then began talking about astronomy The remaining shadower then searched for, found, and played a video on relative star sizes that he was excited to share.

The younger Learners were busy playing the entire time. They had come down from the walls of the canyon to play a hunter vs hunted game called “cougar stalks deer.” The shadower later joined in on the game as well. Essential to the Abrome experience is the opportunity to engage in unlimited free play in a mixed-age setting. This does not look like schooling to most, which is a good thing in our eyes. Many can intuitively appreciate the benefits of free play for younger Learners, but as young people age the expectation too often is that they will let go of the games to dive into academics. We hope that the Abrome Learners never lose their love of learning or their desire to play.

As the day came to a close the remaining shadower said they were excited to come back to finish up their shadow the next day. He then added that he planned to bring some gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, vegan treats on the final day of the cycle, and of the calendar year for Abrome.