Graduated from 6th grade in Open Classroom, 2007
When I moved to Thousand Oaks in 4th grade, I transferred to Conejo Elementary School. Soon it became clear that the traditional classroom was not working well for me, so my mom learned about Open Classroom, another program at Conejo school, and I changed classrooms. My new teacher was Lori Peters (we called her Ms. Lori). In this program, my thoughts about learning and feelings about myself really began to evolve. It was hard entering a new school and then another new classroom. I was scared about the change, but the first thing I noticed was how kind my classmates were and how they all seemed to want to help me feel like belonged. The core subjects of math, science, english and history were taught, as well as an extra class that switched off each year like poetry, Mapping the World by Heart, Mini Society or Polyhedraville, which included an end project besides the standard projects already done by grade level (fourth grade missions, fifth grade states, sixth grade event or important person in history). The projects we did helped me learn a lot about time management, and having real academic commitment. In Open Classroom the teachers created an environment where we could choose seats freely, call the teacher by her first name, and where we weren’t afraid to ask questions. I am one of those students who learns best when I feel challenged, and more challenging classes were also available to anyone who wanted to participate in them.
The kids I met in Open Classroom became like a second family. And sometimes families fight, but at the end of the day we always resolved things. One of my favorite things about open classroom was Circle-the last part of our school day where all the students would sit down in a circle and talk about our day. It created a safe place for students to speak to one another about something that may be bothering them, to forgive, and to apologize. Circle gave us so many tools to speak with a peer with respect and kindness no matter how upset you are, and still get the message across, how to help peers resolve their problems and learning to apologize after you hurt a friend.
After I graduated in 6th grade and went back to traditional school, I realized so many students were so judging of each other, lied, turned on their best friends, and could not communicate effectively-they just didn’t have those skills. Because I knew that those kids didn’t have those tools, their words could never hurt me. One day I was paired with a girl who was mean and didn’t like me as her partner for an assignment, so I made sure to be extra nice to her. Why? Because I knew she needed it. She just seemed so surprised at how friendly I was after the way she treated me, and it made me feel good to know I did the right thing, because I’ve noticed since then, she’s been treating other people a lot differently.
Open Classroom taught me so many important life lessons like true friendship, being a friend to someone who isn’t a friend to you, learning to deal with obstacles, etc. But the most important skills I learned were leadership and having a positive outlook. Sometimes being a leader means being the person in charge, but other times being a leader is letting someone ELSE lead. And I’ve learned that positive thinking is the best trait a person can have-people are just drawn to those who are happy, optimistic people because they tend to spread that energy. And while it’s true that life has a tendency to take you down rocky paths at times, the important thing isn’t just what road your life takes you down-it’s what road YOU take your life through. And I have Ms. Lori to thank for that.
Below: Harvest Festival, Nov. 2006, Pioneer theme. (The picture above was taken Nov. 2011.)
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