Monday, May 3rd was the beginning of the final full week of cycle 9. The small, physically distant cells were great for much of the year as it helped us greatly reduce the risk of exposure to Covid-19 for our community should someone get infected. But the challenge is that the Learners and Facilitators really want more than four to seven Learners showing up each day because each additional person added to a Self-Directed Education environment has an outsized impact on the community. On Monday, four Learners showed up for the small cell that I am part of for the cycle. But with pandemic numbers continuing to improve, we were preparing for the possibility of larger cells the next cycle, if the risk stage as determined by Austin Public Health were to drop to level 2.

On this day, most of us had the expectation and plan to spend much time on the paddle board. Shortly after our meeting and our walk to the lake, one of the teens to offer to pump up the paddle board so he and another teen Learner could get out on the water.

Some of the Learners have been on the paddle board before so they effortlessly pushed off and enjoyed their time on the surface of the lake. But two of us had never been on the paddle board, and each of us were able to overcome our fears and our shaky stabilizer muscles to get up on the board and enjoy the challenge of working against the current and waves of the lake.

Although I was on only briefly, as were Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner, two of the teen Learners spent a great deal of time on the paddle board individually and together. They then decided to head up the river (the lake in Austin is really just a river). And they stayed up the river for quite some time, without having shared with us the plan. When they came back we all had a conversation about what are reasonable safety boundaries and what are our communication needs. They also brought back a turtle with them that they then released back into the lake.

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All but one of us went in the water at some point during the day. But as the temperatures continue to rise I think that we will need to really encourage everyone to get in the water to help regulate their temperatures. Having pulled out the swimming noodles certainly made getting in the water a bit easier and more fun for Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner who navigated all around an inlet.

On this day I decided to do another polar bear plunge, as I think I will do many many days from here on out as the weather gets hotter and hotter. I planned to jump over the two teens who were on a paddle board together as a surprise, and I lucked out by a water plane landing nearby that took their attention.

When Facilitator Lauren and the youngest Learner were on the paddle board I broke out the drone so the teens could fly it.

As summer comes in and as more and more schools release their hold on kids, more and more will be coming into the green areas we have frequented for much of the year. One young lady who had been at the dock the week before had returned, and a couple of the Learners had separate conversations with her. They both said that they were really glad they got to know her a bit.

As the day was coming to a close one of the adolescent Learners asked if I wanted to jump back into the water from the roof over the dock, so we each climbed up and made a few leaps. Then we climbed higher, onto the roof of the building, and made the longer jump in. It was a blast.

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At the other cell the Learners got to see the greenbelt they visited filled with water! Usually the bed is dry, but the recent rains turned it into a lovely flowing body of water.

The water led multiple Learners to just sit and take it all in, while one Learner took some time for themself to help process a rough morning. Two Learners spent a lot of time together for the first time since that Learner enrolled in January, but because the January and February cells were completely remote, and because the other Learner only returned recently after becoming fully vaccinated, this cycle was their first chance to really get to know each other.

Meanwhile, the conversation of King Kong came up, again. Everyone was pulled into the conversation even though some did not care to be pulled in. The conversation revolved around the question of can something that was created with racist intent ever not be racist? Should we try to take racist messages and turn them into not-racist? One Learner suggested that we should just enjoy it and that we “don’t have to look in the past.” Another countered that it still influences the present and future, and pointed out that some people have the luxury of not looking in the past. The Learner who recently returned who had never participated in that conversation later thanked folks for the conversation and raising his awareness of the issue.

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On Tuesday morning I started the day with a great call with the parent of a prospective 10-year-old Learner. We talked about community and our focus on centering the needs of Learners, particularly as they relate to issues of race. Later I had another great call with the parent of four prospective Learners and set up a shadow for the first of them. Finally, I had a third call with the parents of yet another four prospective Learners. Our biggest concerns right now with enrollment are (1) do we have enough time left in the year to get every prospective Learner in for a shadow, (2) do we need a larger facility to accommodate them all next year, and (3) do we have enough Facilitator capacity to bring on everyone if they want to enroll? Not the worst problems to have.

At the cell that I would be with if it were not a Tuesday the crew was smaller than usual, as one of the Learners got a bad case of sunburn and needed to stay at home, as did his sibling. The adolescent Learner who showed up was going to have a short day because he needed to leave at 1:30 p.m. for an appointment. Knowing that it would only be Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner at the end of the day, Facilitator Lauren invited the Learner’s vaccinated mom to join them that afternoon.

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It was a beautiful day with amazing weather, so the crew decided it would be a good morning to hike to the bigger waterfall. They took a somewhat different path getting there by walking barefoot up the cold waters of the the stream. It was slippery at times, as they tried to keep their balance while walking over algae and moss covered rocks. During the meandering walk they took time for quiet breaks and rock skipping. During one of the breaks they came across a large patch of wild onions and began to chow down. It wasn’t the best tasting food they’d have that day, but it was probably the healthiest.

After the older Learner left for his appointment, Facilitator Lauren, the younger Learner, and that Learner’s mom spent time at the lake swimming with noodles, eating ice cream, and eating watermelon. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable day despite the low turnout.

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At the other cell, one of the Learners stayed home to celebrate his birthday. But all the other Learners showed up, and those who were not there the prior day made the most of the abundant water. Every one of the Learners got into the water at some point.

One of the Learners decided to go up and down the stream several times, while others just let the water flow over their bare feet. One of them splayed themselves face down on a rock in the middle of the stream in what looked like a potential crime scene photo, but it was much more relaxing than any crime scene could be.

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On this day, the crew decided to hike for 20 minutes, exploring the ways that the greenbelt have changed with the influx of water, before their morning meeting. They found a variety of things to do to include capturing a skink and enjoying observing its beauty before releasing it back to the wild, in addition to setting up the hammock and letting the sun fall on them.

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In addition to spending lots of time in and around the water, two of the Learners got sucked into a game on a Learner’s phone. Fortunately that did not prevent them from appreciating the beauty all around them or from going in the water.

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Final note: my previously declared daily’ blogging has now fully shifted to cluster-of-days blogging. It just makes sense to me to do so given the much more frequent thunderstorms that result in inclement weather days from March to June, and with me taking Tuesdays and Thursdays off-site for administrative duties while we have three Facilitators (one of them being an intern) to support the Learners. I’m also now a month behind on posting! I’m neck deep in trying to respond to the greater than usual interest in enrollment from prospective families while also supporting our current families in navigating their plans for the coming year with continued uncertainty about what the pandemic plan will look like. Will we be able to be indoors? Will indoors only be for fully vaccinated Learners? Will we continue to have dedicated outdoor cells? I do not know, and the Delta variant of Covid-19 seems to be throwing a wrinkle into the possibilities. The bad news is that schools everywhere had long ago given up on protecting the community from the spread of Covid-19, so whatever happens we will still likely be on the extreme end of prioritizing community over convenience. The good news is that vaccinations continue to inch up, including among Learners in our community. Anyway, I hope to really ramp up my posting again after mid-June!