Thursday April 8th was the 14th day of cycle 8, and day 119 of the pandacademic year. It was also the first shadow day for a prospective Learner, and the third shadow day for another.

At the morning meeting Facilitator Ariel volunteered to be the game master, having us sit in a circle and sharing in order from tallest to shortest. I was facilitating the meeting and had us start with announcements and then introduce ourselves by stating our name, pronouns, how long we’ve been at Abrome, and telling the group something interesting about ourselves. We then shared our intentions for the day, and then we each mentioned what makes us feel comfortable when we are in a new setting with new people. Considering that we had two shadowers with us this seemed like a great prompt and the answers were mostly pretty helpful: when they break away from the group to talk to me, when people share with me, when I have a safety device and can retreat into it (not very helpful), friendliness, doing an activity with them (e.g., game), talking, finding common ground, sharing memes, when people are exactly like me (not very helpful).


Before we did anything else that day the group had planned to visit with the houseless folks they spoke to the day before. Multiple people committed to address a need that was shared with them the day before, and each showed up that morning with the items they committed to bring: bread, cheese, granola bars, water, and a calendar. It was nice to see follow through from the group on an issue that a Learner had indicated meant a lot to her.

Next we had planned to walk to The Texas State Capitol to see if we could make people feel uncomfortable about free kids in public spaces in the middle of the school day. Facilitator Ariel and I once again dropped back so that the Learners could lead the way, but when everyone looked to the same Learner they had been deferring to the previous several weeks, I asked if someone else was able to take the lead. An adolescent Learner was out of his comfort zone but he decided to lead the way. Off he went, pretty quickly, with everyone following. I walked next to him and told him that leading wasn’t just about being at the front, but also making sure everyone in the group was taken care of. I encouraged him to look behind every once in a while to make sure he wasn’t leaving his friends behind.


When we came across a sunken courtyard the youngest Learner insisted that we stop and play there. He had a skateboard (minus the wheels) that he thought he could use to do tricks off of in the courtyard. The Learners all reminded him that we agreed to a timeline that included getting to the Capitol as soon as possible because two Learners needed to leave early. The young Learner struggled to find a reason to stick with the plan, and told everyone that they needed to adjust the plan so he could play. Facilitator Ariel sat with him, acknowledged that he wanted to play, and eventually convinced the Learner to stick to the plan that the Learners collectively set that morning.

When we got to the Capitol grounds we settled in around a large oak tree for some conversation. I had been concerned by how little the Learners were interacting with the shadowers so I addressed it with a couple of them, particularly the ways in which they used their bodies to turn away from conversation. It was frustrating as I had spoken about it multiple time that week. Some of the Learners said that they did not realize they were doing it, and some insisted that they were not doing it. All said that they did not want to ignore the new Learners but that they did not know how to interact.


At 12:00 p.m. I feared that the day would get away from us and that we would not be able to go into the Capitol in time to participate in any committee hearings where people could address the committee. Everyone agreed that we would eat lunch for half an hour and then walk in. At that point, all of the Learners began to walk away from the Facilitators and the two shadowers, and I said to them, “I’m making the observation that all of the Learners are walking away from the shadowers.” They did not invite the shadowers to join them, though. I recognized that they were all feeling insecure, particularly because the newest shadower was older than each of them, but I also remember each of their first days (and weeks) and remember how out of place they felt then, and how they all appreciated it when the more veterans Learners chose to center the needs of shadowers instead of letting their insecurities prevent them from being welcoming.


When we got into the Capitol we tried to find a committee hearing that we could join, but we found out that they were all out of session because both the senate and the house were in session. We were able to get in the house gallery as they discussed Amendment No. 3 to Texas House Bill 1239. It was a bill that was purportedly about religious freedom but upon hearing the debate on the floor it became clear to me that it was more about the culture wars. Those who were opposed to any restrictions on gatherings during the Covid-19 pandemic were looking to carve out exceptions to the state being able to enforce public health safety measures. The obvious place to start would be churches. The vote tended to fall along party lines, which highlights the challenge of hoping that partisan government bodies can center the needs of people who do not vote or donate to the party.

After watching the session we walked out of the house gallery and began winding our way through the Capitol. As the Learners were running up and down stairs I asked if they wanted me to referee a race. Most of them did, so I laid out the rules. It would be a short race. They would run down one flight of stairs, run around to the opposite side of the stairs, and then run right back up. I would space them out in five second intervals so that none would trip over the others. As I counted off for each to go, one Learner could not wait and began to inch toward the starting line. Another Learner tried to hold him back and lost control of him, but fortunately he fell down to the side instead of down the stairs. That would have been bad. Eventually every Learner had taken off with one Learner coming to the finish line. I was a bit confused for a second as the other Learners were not hot on his tail, but apparently he was the only one who listened to the rules of the game.

After the race and after everyone caught their breath, we walked toward the exit. As we walked by some staffers I loudly said to the Learners, “keep your hands in your pockets, you really embarrassed us today.” With a look of shock on the faces of the staffers I turned to them and said, “school kids need discipline.” I don’t think any of them were amused, but I was amused because it seemed to me that they forgot what school was like.

Outside the Capitol the youngest Learner said he wanted to ride his skateboard down a steep grassy area that came out on a road. Facilitator Ariel said that was not a great idea because it would almost certainly lead to some sort of injury. The Learner got upset and said that he could do it. Facilitator Ariel who has been skateboarding for years more than the Learner had been alive said, “are you willing to trust me?” The Learner then asked if it would be a better idea to play on a much smaller slope that did not come out on a road.

Two of the Learners left early, as planned. After they left one of the Learners asked me if they could go investigate what looked like an ice cream truck up the road. I said that I would accompany him, although I doubted an ice cream truck would normally set up there given the limited foot traffic. When we showed up it was indeed open, to my surprise. The Learners got excited and began to look for a menu with prices, when a lady with a bunch of Planned Parenthood signs told them that they had rented out the ice cream truck and that they could get some ice cream for free. I told the lady that we were not volunteers and they said that it was okay. I suggested to the Learners that they ask the lady what she was there for and she was eager to talk to them about their health services. But the Learners were so focused on the ice cream the lady said, “it can wait until they get their ice cream.” Once they got their ice cream I again asked, and one Learner walked off while the other completely zoned out as he dug into his ice cream. The lady said, “it’s okay, don’t worry about it.”

We walked off and I asked the Learners why they ignored the lady who just gave them free ice cream. The youngest was so lost in the ice cream that he did not even understand what I was asking, while the other insisted that he was listening. I asked him what the organization did, and he said he did not know. I said that might be an indication that he was not listening. When we got back to the Capitol grounds I insisted on talking to them about ways in which they can show gratitude when people give them something, whether it is people with a political agenda or perhaps their parents.


Towards the end of the day, those same two Learners were fixated on going back to 7-Eleven for more sugar, so I agreed to take off with them in one direction while Facilitator Ariel and the remaining Learners and shadowers could drop by the ice cream truck to see if they could get some free ice cream. Fortunately, this time around each of the Learners listened to the women who had rented out the truck as they shared what Planned Parenthood does, they asked questions, and they thanked them. They even asked if they could get a picture with the volunteers. I missed out on that feel good moment though, as I was focused on getting us to 7-Eleven and then to the pick-up point in time.

The day was an exciting and positive one for most Learners, but I was pretty down on how the day played out. I saw legislators prioritizing the wants of their political base instead of centering the needs of those most vulnerable to the pandemic. I also saw Learners focusing on their desires for food or comfort over the needs of others to feel seen and welcome. We are all learning and growing together, and I recognize that many younger people have not had a lot of practice prioritizing the needs of others, especially those who have spent thousands of hours trapped in conventional schools. I committed to raising these issues the next day at the Check-in and Change-up.

The other cell had a much easier day. Two Learners researched what to feed ducks and brought corn for them. There was leaf printing on clay. And after spending half the day at the lake, they spent the second half of the day at a water fall where they tried to dam up the stream and played in the woods.

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