The forecast for Wednesday, March 24th, included thunderstorms as late as the evening of Tuesday, March 23rd. But the thunderstorms were scheduled for the afternoon, and it seemed that thunderstorms kept clearing out of the forecast the closer we got to it. Which makes sense, since meteorologists need to work with probabilities based on current conditions. As a forecast becomes closer, uncertainty reduces, and while there may be a 30% of thunderstorms in five days, come the morning of, that 30% may now be 80% or 10%. On this day there was a small chance of afternoon thunderstorms, which meant we might have to cancel the day or plan for an early pickup. Having missed out on January and February thanks to Covid-19 spread and the Texas freeze, we really wanted to find a way to allow everyone to come together, so I sent the following email to Parents and Guardians at 6:50 a.m. (our start time is 10:00 a.m.):

Current weather forecasts say there is a chance of thunderstorms this afternoon. Based on the updated forecasts at noon, we may ask you to pick up your Learner/s at 1p. We will not contact you if there is no need for an early pickup. If you would not be able to pick up your Learner/s at 1p if there is a half day because of inclement weather, your Learner should stay home today.

More concerning to me was that some of the Learners have not been drinking enough water. This has always been a concern for us, so we asked every Learner to bring a water bottle with them every day so they would always have water nearby. At the Abrome facility I got a standup, 5-filter water purification system and dispenser so that there was never an excuse for not drinking enough water. Even with that making drinking water easy, Learners would often get so lost in other activities that they would fail to stay hydrated. This is certainly one area where conventional schools may have an advantage, because there students are often be permitted to leave a painful class if they go get a drink at the water fountain. During this pandacademic year we are entirely outdoors, so we are doubly challenged because the elements can make it more difficult on the Learners (hot weather requires more water, and cold weather makes drinking enough water less desirable) and we can’t carry much water with us. Each Facilitator brings at least two-gallons of water per day in their vehicle, but sometimes getting back to the vehicle is challenging. So last Wednesday I asked if we could get everyone to give drink half of their bottle of water by the end of the morning meeting so that they could top it off before we headed out for the day.

We expected Wednesday to be a great day. We were still three Learners down due to quarantine, which sucked, but we had made plans to act upon a young Learner’s interest in addressing all the litter in Austin. I brought gloves and garbage bags to make the pickup easier on us. After the morning meeting we talked about how we would spend our day and when we would make time for the pickup. I suggested maybe early in the day before it got too hot and before we were too tired, especially because folks were already tired from the two days before, while others suggested we do a cleanup after the afternoon roundup. But the city employs folks who clean up trash at the park that we hold our meeting, while other parts of the city do not. Eventually they decided that they were going to pick up trash on the way back to the pickup point at the end of the day.

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But they also decided they did not want to walk very far this day. Instead, they wanted to go across the street to Zilker Park and play in the large fields and on the rock outcropping in the middle of the park. When we got there the Learners immediately got to playing in various ways. We worked our way to the outcropping and I hung my bag from a tree and sat down with the intention of writing down some notes. One Learner found a pack of cards that had been left there, asked to borrow my stick of glue, and worked to repair the box for future use.

A younger Learner climbed up, over, around, and through the rock outcropping, and eventually decided that he was going to make a home out of a cave. He began to gather branches, grasses, and other materials he found to decorate his space. I looked over at another Learner who was sitting and eating some chips. I asked him what he planned to do while we were there and he said there was nothing to do. He’s one of our newest Learners and is still deschooling. I offered up some of my books to read, some art supplies to work with, and offered to throw the football with him. He passed on all of it, and I recognized that it was a good time for him to sit with himself.

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Later, an adolescent Learner chose to join in the play of the younger Learner and they climbed up into some of the trees, and I offered to pass the football to them in the tree to see if they could catch it without falling (they were not very high and I did not throw the ball very hard).

The weather was really beautiful, it was overcast and pretty so there was no direct sun on our backs, but the warmth of the air meant we were not chilly in any way. We could feel the nice, warm, springtime mist on our faces.

Facilitator Ariel asked the Learner who did not believe the had anything to do if he was willing to throw the football around. He passed on the opportunity, but the others Learners said yes. I also joined in, and we played a variety of spontaneous games such as try to tackle Facilitator Ariel, try to avoid being tacked by Facilitator Ariel, let Facilitator Ariel kick the ball as far as possible and see who can recover it first while everyone else tackles each other en route to the ball, etc. The laughter and joy emanating from the other Learners pulled the Learner who was standing on the sidelines into the games. There was lots of running, some jammed fingers, and a couple of scrapes from biting it on the turf.

I briefly checked the weather apps on my phone and confirmed that the thunderstorms had cleared out of the forecast for the afternoon, so there was no need for me to let the Learners’ families know that they needed to come pick them up. I was thrilled we were not going to be stuck with a half day.

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Afterward the Learners were interested in resting. Facilitator Ariel offered to set up the hammock and one of the Learners assisted him in setting it up. This gave me the opportunity to sit down and eat some lunch, and afterward I broke out Usual Cruelty and continued to slow read the first essay of the book. An essay, that by the time I finished it, I felt was the most perfect essay written about what the criminal injustice system is.

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What good is the hammock if folks can’t relax in it. One of the Learners was really eager to enjoy it and asked Facilitator Ariel if he could hang out in it, and Facilitator Ariel said he could. There was some conversation about the Learner getting his own so they could set up multiple hammocks in the future, and so that he would not need to wait his turn. The Learner said he might ask his parents to buy him one, and Facilitator Ariel asked if instead he might consider saving up the money to buy his own.

While we were sitting around an older guy wandered into the area where we were and observed us for a minute. He seemed interested in what these two guys and these young people were doing, hanging out, playing, laughing, and talking in a care free way on a school day. One of the Learners shied away from him, perhaps having learned from dominant culture that strangers, especially men, seemingly poor folks, or houseless people (we had no reason to believe that he was poor or houseless) were a potential threat. Facilitator Ariel saw the Learner’s apprehension so Facilitator Ariel spoke out to him to ask him how he was doing. He said he was okay, but that his brother just died and he was dealing with that. Facilitator Ariel and the man then had a conversation about life, family, Austin, and eventually schooling.

At this point, a young Learner who sometimes struggles with remembering to wear his mask around others walked up into the area where the two were talking. Noticing that this was a new person he immediately put on his mask, and then waved to the man. The man smiled, appreciating the acknowledgement. When he was finished speaking to Facilitator Ariel he walked my way and I expressed my sympathies. We then had a conversation about what schooling is and what education is not, that some of the Learners took note of. Even if they didn’t catch the content of the conversations that Facilitator Ariel and I had with the man, they all recognized that we were willing to have a conversation with the man, and that maybe dominant culture can sometimes get us to focus on the wrong things.

After spending a good amount of time in the park, the Learners decided that now it was time to head out to some food trucks for a late lunch. At the food trucks Facilitator Ariel talked with a Learner who is interested on getting a job and saving money. The Learner said that they were too young to work, and Facilitator Ariel talked about what the real constraints on working was. The Learner said they might be interested in working at a food truck for their first job, and was interested in one of the trucks on the lot. Facilitator Ariel encouraged the Learner to start a conversation with the person in the food truck so they could see if there was any opportunity for them. The Learner was anxious, and was not willing to start the conversation. Facilitator Ariel asked if he could start the conversation, so the Learner could see how to strike up a conversation that would include an ask. The Learner said that would be great.

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Soon it would be time for the afternoon roundup, and the day was winding down. I reminded everyone that we said we wanted to do a trash pickup and that we would need to get going pretty soon if we wanted to do justice to the effort. Facilitator Ariel and one of the Learners agreed, but two said that they changed their mind and were no longer interested. This was an interesting response because the Learners who were no longer interested included the one who introduced the concern of litter, and the other was concerned about the environment. I felt that the lower energy at the end of the day might be the challenge, but I kept my mouth shut. After having a conversation about intentions and the fact that the cell was explicitly designed to be a social justice oriented Flying Squad, they decided that they would participate in the pickup. We pulled out three large, heavy duty garbage bags and everyone put on disposable gloves.

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We made our way back down a major road where there was a good amount of trash, but it was when we got to the hike and bike trail that we hit the garbage jackpot. In the brush along the trail, and eventually along the lake, there was lots of garbage laying around to include candy wrappers, junk food containers, beer cans and cases, and discarded or lost clothing. It was a challenging task thanks much to the temperature and humidity, and the poison ivy everywhere, but there seemed to be somewhat of a desire to collect more garbage than the others. We made a great haul, and when we got back we took a photo and then stuffed the garbage bags into garbage bins. We all felt decent to great about helping to clean up a tiny part of the city, and a couple of us felt good about the physical exertion of the effort. It was nice that random people kept thanking us for cleaning up while on their walks and runs. What a great ending to a great day.

Meanwhile, at the other cell there was lots of walking and talking, looking at flowers, watching turtles, pretending to be squirrels and burying pecans. Unfortunately there was an incident where the Learners left their bags to go refill water and when they returned they saw a man going through their bags. Fortunately, Facilitator Lauren approached the man and told him to leave and the guy did not take anything. They could not be certain if he was trying to help or if he was trying to take, but the crew was not thrilled that the man had been touching their stuff, and worse, that he was unmasked and did not give them the space that they wanted. Afterward, Facilitator Lauren spoke to them about ways that they can proactively advocate for themselves in the future if they come into contact with someone who does not honor their need for space and security, and how they want to feel when they came back the next day. They discussed talking through scenarios, and then some of the Learners took some personal time to paint or just sit. The Learners all rallied despite the frustration of the incident, and the day ended well even if the day itself was not great.

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