I spend many hours here on campus alone, working nights and weekends, manning the office in the summer. My colleagues and I always marvel at how much more we can get done when Fairhaven School is empty. We make jokes about it: this place is so much better without the students.
Then one older student enters the office to pick up a work release form. Or maybe a younger student comes in with a parent, looking for a lost phone. No matter the purpose, each time a student breaks the silence of the quiet school, they animate the emptiness and remind me why these fifteen years have mattered. When she does ask for the form, she looks up and perfectly balances familiarity with respect. When he does ask for his phone, he can deal with the setback if it’s not in the office. He can even handle his upset dad. We may check in on school issues, or we may banter back and forth about his Orioles and my Nationals. We have brief interactions, then they leave, and the silence returns, save for the sound of fingers on a keyboard.
Still, memories move around the buildings like shadows, and imagination takes over. Here come the young boys, walk-running down the hall so as not to be written up in JC. A much older student follows, saying the definition of running is when both feet are simultaneously not touching the floor. They all pass the girls in the Quiet Room, reading the Harry Potter series. Again! Maybe the mind travels to the Old Building, where the boy who’s searching for Bigfoot is showing his evidence photos, finally not caring if people make fun. In the Art Room, others cluster around their tiny clay worlds on red trays, worlds that interact. These don’t even look up when the same boys are passing through this building now, or when they rumble outside to the playground swings. Behind them, others tumble down the outdoor steps towards the stream. In the distance, voices carry from the tire swing, and in the end it’s this word—voices—that make this place so full and so dynamic when we are in session. Voices talking, voices laughing, voices playing, silent voices reading, voices voting, angry voices, proud voices, voices that have grown up here, and voices that are brand new. Here, in this efficient, after hours silence, we do the work so that fifteen years’ worth of voices can speak, and so that fifteen more years of voices can continue becoming the people they are meant to be.
The joke about no students clangs, like they often do out of context, because of course this place is nothing without the students. It is voiceless. Maybe that’s today’s way to explain just what it is a student does out here, tucked into the woods on a slight hill: she finds her voice, and she learns to use it.