Organic Education?

SlowWhen I first saw this picture (original source unknown), it was one of those “Aha” moments. Todd and I had been tossing around similar PR ideas, hoping to encapsulate our mission and the feeling people seem to have when they join One Spark. But, here, the word “SLOW!” really resonated with me, combined with a picture out in nature– Yes! And, nurturing “free range children” makes a lot of sense these days. In fact, we all need to just slow down, be a bit more free, and get out of the cage that too many of us allow ourselves to live in.

On June 14, 2013, we wrapped up our second year of operation, after a rousing four days of Imaginession. OnTogether that day, we held a wonderful ceremony to honor the kids who are moving on to “real school”, some whom we’ve known a very long time. We grown ups have learned a lot about organic education in the past two years, but at the ceremony and during our Circles that last week, it was clear that the kids were the most instrumental in teaching us. Their interests, their ideas, and their energy… all helped us figure it out because, when we started One Spark, we really didn’t have a clear road map (and I personally didn’t have a clue about how a business runs!). We just knew there were seven kids who wanted something different, a group of us teachers who needed that as well, and parents who were looking for help.

To give you an idea about the organic nature of One Spark, during this past year, Kaylee asked Laura if we could have an archaeology course. Laura knew Kaylee loved all things involving Indiana Jones, and considered how she might pull it together when she herself is not an archaeologist. Well, if you know Laura, you know she’s pretty resourceful. Flash forward to our Archaeology Slideshow to see how this immensely popular class took off. Going back a bit further, in May 2012, Liza and I spent a weekend on Santa Cruz Island for a NatureBridge teacher training. At the end of the two days, the group leaders asked us what we could bring back to our classrooms. A lot of teachers loved the ideas, but couldn’t figure out how to implement them within the constraints of their text-driven science lessons. Thankfully, Liza and I were free to act on our good idea. Let’s make it a course, and let’s call it Local Island Ecology! And, Viola! The results speak for themselves. And up until recently, the idea of a class on Biomimicry had never crossed our minds, until Jerri expressed her passion about it. Within a few weeks, both Laura and Jerri were connected with leading biomimicry experts in LA, had drummed out a short course for Imaginession, and are now excitedly planning out a full session course for next year. Because why? Well, because the kids loved it! (And so did Laura and Jerri).

I mean seriously… how can one person dream up all this fun? Well, one person cannot (and certainly not one person sitting up in Sacramento outlining how to make schools more standardized), but a group of passionate people can. 🙂 And that’s how it happens. Good ideas float our way, and sometimes they just have the right timing and we have the right resources. If your student gets to take First Aid, Cop Talk, Actor’s Studio, or even Mixed Martial Arts next year, you’re seeing organic education in action because those are examples of, “Wow, that sounds neat. Let’s do it.”

Now, to be real, One Spark hasn’t been easy. Okay, it’s been A LOT easier than anything I’ve ever done education-wise, because when we’re in our element, hard stuff doesn’t feel like work. But, there have been sacrifices, to be sure. Todd and I have spent way too much of our own money to get it going, and we’re never quite sure what’s ahead. Our teachers have traded in their financial security (temporarily) for peace of mind. There’s also the fact that even organic planning takes tremendous organization and clarity. And, some of our friends don’t get it and think we’re a bit nuts to not make a “living” for how hard we work. On the flip side… the rewards have been monumental. For my experience, there are the little things, like not worrying too much about making sure my blog posts are timely because no one is breathing down my neck to be a PR expert. There are bigger things, like being able to creatively (and organically) teach kids who want to learn, and not have to spend my valuable planning time on paperwork that no one reads, and silly rules that don’t help kids. Then, there are the biggest things in the world, like how the timing of One Spark serendipitously aligned with the last two years of my father’s life. Because of One Spark’s organic approach, and manageable time commitment, I was able to be there for my Dad when he needed me most– something that, as I see it, was better than a billion dollars.

What’s next? Some great courses are planned for the coming year, but I’m probably most excited about what’s not planned, because when you take a bit of a free-range approach, cool stuff just happens.

~Lori Peters