Thanks to our Guest Author: John Sexton is the father of a Sabot 1st grader and a Sabot preschooler
Sabot at Stony Point provides progressive education for children in preschool through 8th grade, and offers a purposeful, intellectually rigorous curriculum that cultivates a spirit of inquiry and a life-long love of learning. For more information call (804) 272-1341.
Not long ago, my wife, Kelli, calls me up crying. She’s not much of a crier, and this isn’t any ordinary cry. She’s having a hard time catching her breath. She’s borderline sobbing. Something must be very wrong.
“What’s wrong,” I say.
“It’s ok,” I say. “Take your time.”
“What place? Where are you?”
“It’s…over.” Deep breath. “Kindergarten – it’s over.”
It’s 8AM, and I begin to understand what’s happening. She just dropped off our 5 year old son, Ian, for his last day of kindergarten.
“It’s ok,” I say. “He has 8 more years.”
“I know. But he’ll never have this year again. He’ll never be exactly right here again. This year was magic. This place is magic.”
I’m at a loss for comforting words, in part because I’ve started to cry, too, which is all a little ridiculous. It’s just an ordinary morning: our son is simply starting the last day of kindergarten. He is surrounded by the same 15 classmates, greeted by the same two teachers. The weather is identical to the day before, sunny and warm, and it’s going to be the same tomorrow.
But even in my office 20 miles away, I can see what my wife is seeing: Ian bounding into a sun-filled classroom surrounded by the projects and stories and artwork that he and his classmates have produced over the year. He’s thinking about the story he wants to tell as part of that day’s story workshop. He’s looking forward to another collaboration with Elizabeth and Noah and Ella and Jesse. He’s excited to bounce ideas off his teachers, to answer the questions he knows they’ll ask in return. He’s completely in the moment of that day of school, and there’s nowhere else he’d rather be.
Sabot wasn’t our original plan. I’m a public school kid and was determined my kids would be, too. Kelli was more mixed about the direction of public education, but she was willing to consider options. After Ian was born, we’d researched and visited a slew of schools in Richmond, both public and private. We found some good options, but Sabot and its Reggio-based Constructivist philosophy quickly emerged as our favorite. And the more we looked, the more we realized the public schools I’d hoped to send Ian to – even the best ones – lacked Sabot’s classrooms where kids moved around constantly, engaged by their teachers and each other alike, literally building their learning rather than memorizing facts or sitting at desks. Yes, those schools had recess and some time outside, but they didn’t use the outdoors as an extension of the classroom. And they certainly didn’t have the campus that Sabot has: a scruffy estate with its formal gardens giving way to acres of woods and streams.
Growing up, my experience of school was a traditional one. I learned by watching my teachers write on a blackboard and doing exercises in workbooks. And while I’m grateful for those years, they couldn’t compare to Sabot’s open classroom and outdoors, where an object examined in one corner leads to a series of questions in another, which leads to a small group posing theories and solutions, which leads the whole class to drafting plans for those solutions and ends with everyone spending half a day outside testing each plan. I don’t remember ever doing that in my classroom. I’d certainly never done it as a weekly practice.
But I wasn’t willing to give up on public school. So we did what any sensible family would do: moved 600 miles north to where I’d grown up, Connecticut, in hopes of finding the perfect public education.
During our year and a half up north, we gave the Connecticut schools our best shot. Ian went to the town’s pre-school that fed the main elementary. We visited a number of grades. Kelli met other parents from neighboring towns to talk about their experience with local schools and to plan ways to make improvements. We even checked out innovative private schools in the area. But nothing we found came close to what we’d already seen at Sabot. There were good schools, both public and private. But there was no Sabot.
So we did what any sensible family would do: moved 600 miles back to Richmond. And as soon as we could, we signed Ian up for his first year at Sabot.
I still believe in the social contract of public schools, and private tuition stretches us far more than we’d prefer. But with all the moves, the back-and-forth and expense, we have no regrets. We started our middle son, Oliver, at Sabot this year. We’re making plans for our newest arrival, Finn, to attend in a few years.
And Ian has thrived.
During that first year of kindergarten, he came home every day exhausted but inspired. Some days he was filled with tales of outdoor adventures, others he shared new ways he’d found to think of things: connections he’d discovered between a hike in the woods and sculptures in the classroom, the development of story, his new career as Artist, the magic of math, and, more than anything, how much fun it was to learn. Every day his learning didn’t happen alongside the fun he was having; it was the fun he was having.
Kelli and I picked up Ian together that afternoon of his last day. No tears this time. We’re saps but we try not to be too pathetic. The door slid open and Ian climbed inside.
“How was your day?” we asked him.
“Good,” he smiled.
“Guess what?” we said.
“It’s officially summer.”
“What’s that mean,” he asked.
“It’s summer, Bean. You know – no school for a few months.”
“Awww, man,” he complained. “But I don’t want summer. I want to go to school.” And his big brown eyes filled with tears.
I hate to see my kids cry, but those tears were different. Those tears were worth more than the price of admission, more than a couple of moves. Those were tears that confirmed what we’d hoped: that Sabot takes an ordinary day of children and teachers, of indoors and out, and mixes them with a ramshackle landscape and a fundamental belief that life is learning, and turns them all into a little bit of magic.