May 7th, 10th, and 11th were the final three days of cycle 9 at Abrome. May 7th was a Friday and was the last scheduled in-person day of the cycle, and the 10th and 11th were our scheduled remote days prior to changing up the cell compositions for cycle 10.

Cycle 9 ended with a whimper in many ways. The three inclement weather days coupled with lower turnout on the in-person days led to decreasing attendance as Learners often opted to stay home if a bit tired or wary of the weather knowing that their friends might not show up, either. This seemed like an inevitable place to end up as the pandacademic year chugged along, but there was hope on the horizon in that it seemed inevitable that we would be dropping down to risk stage level 2, soon, which meant that we would be able to come back together in larger cells, giving Learners more motivation to show up, despite what would certainly be rising temperatures. On Friday, though, the low attendance gave the Learners the opportunity to really connect with other Learners and Facilitators in a bunch of one-on-one interactions.

Good spot for a nap

Good spot for a nap

My cell chose to be walk to the waterfall in the morning, which was nice, and then walk back to the lake in the afternoon. During the walk to the waterfall I played music requests from the Learners, and at the waterfall I got into an extended conversation about rap music history with one of them. We are truly of different generations, yet we still found common ground on our taste for music from both eras.

When we got to the lake, I spent some time chatting with the youngest Learner before he decided that the day would be a lot of observing others and taking some naps. The oldest Learner, meanwhile, spent her time talking with another young lady who she had met at the park prior.

I spent a most of my time that day interacting with an adolescent Learner who prefers to spend his time interacting with other adolescents when possible, while the other two Learners chose to spend much of their time away doing their own thing.
Earlier in the year we spent a lot of time and effort trying to save tadpoles in a puddle that kept drying up, and we succeeded in bringing many of them along to adolescents, themselves. On this day we noticed that the puddle was once again filled with tadpoles, but that large numbers of them were stuck in the mud, as their portion of the puddle dried up. The Learner and I went searching for some discarded bottles or cans to use to try to save them, and the Learner ended up cutting open a can to serve as a water transport tool and a shovel.
We thought that the operation would be pretty simple, as the previously stranded tadpoles seemingly came back to life as soon as they had enough water, but on this day it appears we arrived too late, and many of them perished. Nonetheless, we persisted and we were able to relocate enough of the ones that were still clinging to life to the water, and it was fabulous to see them swimming free, again. We hoped that our effort may have allowed them to eventually grow into viable mosquito eating adults.
Although I had no plans to jump in the water that day, the Learner then convinced me to jump in the water. We considered doing a backflip off the top of the overhang to the dock, but we failed to overcome our fear on that day.
At the other cell Facilitator Lauren spent a good amount of time connecting with a Learner who has really struggled with connecting with others since he joined Abrome in January, but was not able to show up in-person until March due to the Covid-19 surge and then the Texas Freeze. But on this day, given a smaller number of people, he made what seemed to be large strides.

At one point, the Learner asked Facilitator Lauren if he could show her a clip from a movie while she was trying to eat. She said he could but would appreciate it if he could wait until later so she could finish her lunch. He then responded that sometimes people say later without given a set amount of time, and that leads him to keep asking, which becomes annoying. Facilitator Lauren acknowledged the awareness, thanked him for raising it, and told him that she needed 20 minutes. He then set off to explore, during which time he caught a toad. Later, she asked him if he wanted to share the clip, and he did. They then continued to talk for a long time.

Later in the day Facilitator Lauren went on a 45-minute walk with another adolescent Learner, connecting with him in a meaningful way for the first time in many months as due to them not being in the same cells or him choosing to be remote for multiple cycles.

There was also ample hammock time, with Facilitator Ariel, and Learners getting their turns relaxing in the great weather before departing for the weekend.

When we returned virtually on Monday we braced ourselves for low turnout yet again, but some combination of missing each other and anticipation for dropping to risk stage level 2 for the first time all year seemed to have gotten a decent number of Learners out of bed for the morning meeting.

As with many morning meetings, we shared announcements and then a prompt. The most exciting announcement was two of the older Learners saying they got their second Covid-19 vaccination shot over the weekend. Later, one of the older Learners dropped off call as soon as she responded to the prompt. I jumped on Discord and asked if she was okay, and she said she was, so I asked why she dropped off. She said she shared her prompt and was done. I explained that being there to listen to others is often more valuable than sharing, as it allows others to know that what they have to say is valued. She then jumped back on for the remainder of the call.

Next, we shared the calendar for the two remote days and went through an abbreviated Set-the-Week meeting. One Learner wanted to have everyone join him in gaming, and Facilitator Ariel encouraged him to formally hot the offering so folks would show up. We also threw in some water chugging to get folks hydrated, but it turned out that only Facilitators showed up for that. The hydration struggle continues.

Later, I had a nice conversation with the mom of an unschooling family that was considering enrolling, but they felt that 1 hour and 15 minute commute was probably too much (and I agreed with them). Then they surprised me with, “I so appreciate your calling out Chris Hyde and your emphasis on diversity and justice.” She was referring to the difficult letter I wrote pointing out how incompatible any form of bigotry or dehumanization of groups of people, in this case the houseless, was with any form of liberatory education work. Because we both exist in a world that values (or at least markets to) unschooling families, I could not allow an anti-houseless narrative to go unchallenged.

In better enrollment news, on Tuesday I walked a prospective family through the Family Financial Worksheet and confirmed a shadow for their child the next cycle. We had delayed asking for enrollment agreements from families until the summer as we wanted to give them maximum flexibility considering our lack of clarity over what our pandemic plan would be for the next year. We did not feel comfortable asking for commitments in the first few months of 2021. We knew most families would probably re-enroll, but we could not be sure without enrollment documents in hand. But having a family commit to shadow, with others also lining up to shadow over the final two cycles, made me feel a bit more secure.

The other highlights of Tuesday included one of the Learners turning on his video to show us his haircut, and Facilitator Lauren and a young Learner watching old cartoons and talking about them together. They chose to watch ThunderCats and The Croods.

After the afternoon roundup the Facilitators did our final After Action Review of the cycle. We felt exhausted from Zoom, surprise, surprise, and couldn’t wait to be back together in-person, hopefully in larger numbers, when cycle 10 was set to begin in six days.