Taking On The World (2009 Thesis #1)

Fairhaven School has just graduated seven students. As a way to celebrate the class of 2009, over the next couple of weeks, we will be posting the theses that they  successfully defended. Below is a brief description outlining how somebody earns a Fairhaven diploma, followed by the first thesis. Enjoy!

Students who have spent at least three years at Fairhaven School may earn a diploma by defending the thesis that they have prepared themselves to become effective adults in the larger community. Diploma candidates must declare their intent to graduate and answer questions at a special winter Assembly of parents, students, staff and public members. They also meet with their individual graduation committees, and defend their written theses before a Diploma Committee made up of three experienced staff members from other Sudbury schools. A majority of positive votes from the Committee is the final requirement of  the diploma process.

Taking on the World
By Jessica L. Engel

What is an effective adult?  Is it someone who has a high-paying job and a fancy car?  Or is it the model citizen who votes every year and never runs a red light?

Or is an effective adult the person who can take care of herself, cooking, cleaning, providing?  The person who can take responsibility for herself?  A person that other people can rely on?  The one who tries to be the best she can?  If that’s the case, then I’m already well on my way…

In the Beginning
I’m not the same person I was three years ago.  When I first arrived at Fairhaven, I was timid, awkward, and naïve.  The only person I knew here besides my sister, G., was a girl I’d been friends with four years previously, and she wasn’t the same either.

I came to Fairhaven in September of 2006.  Earlier that year, I’d read an article about the school in The Washington Post.  It sounded like a dream come true, definitely much cooler than the public high school I was enrolled in.  As that school year came to a close, my parents started looking for alternative schools for G., and Fairhaven came to mind.  The three of them went on a tour of the school and later decided that it was the right school.

I was very unhappy at my school, so I told my parents that I wanted to see Fairhaven, too.  Unfortunately, they had taken the last tour of the year, so I never got a preview of the school.  We did have several pamphlets and informational booklets, however.  Between reading those and looking at the website, I decided that I wanted to attend Fairhaven that September as well.  Even though it meant I would have to adjust to an entirely different method of schooling, and I wouldn’t be graduating with my friends, nothing would change my mind.

On the first day at school, I met all of the teenagers at the same time.  It was very intimidating to walk into a room and find my entire age group sitting in it.  I didn’t know how to start a conversation with them, so I spent most of my time in the Lounge, reading, and slowly getting to know the other students.  They were nice, but I was shy, and I had a hard time making friends.
Eventually, I started to come out of my shell.  One thing that helped was being asked to help paint the set for The Rise of the Dark Knight, a play Theatre Corp. put on that year.  I started to hang around during rehearsals, talking to the cast and crew, and helping where it was needed.

By the end of the year, I had a group of good friends, including current students and alumni.  I even had an awesome new boyfriend, L., who was a student at the time.  Already, I was a completely changed person, much more friendly and outgoing than I had been.  I was eager to come back to Fairhaven the next year.

There’s quite a bit I’ve succeeded at in my time at Fairhaven.  I was elected Law Clerk last year, and was serving a second term until I recently decided to resign.  I’ve served two terms as a JC Clerk as well, and I am serving my second term as School Meeting Secretary, which I’m enjoying very much.

I’ve also had less “formal” successes here.  During my first year, I played the role of a zombie in a short film project.  All day, we stumbled around campus transforming people into mindless brain eaters.  It was incredibly fun.  I was also able to get a yoga class started with some of my friends.  We’ve successfully kept the class going through the entire year, something that doesn’t often happen here.

I’ve had a number of more personal accomplishments at school as well.  The first time I finished writing a poem at school was awesome, since I usually write in the privacy of my bedroom.  Sharing that poem with one of my friends was even better, because I’m very self-conscious about my writing.  Getting my driver’s license was a great accomplishment, marking the beginning of my transition from dependency to freedom.

By far, the hardest thing I’ve done so far at school, and in life in general, was telling L. how I feel about him.  I was terrified that he wouldn’t feel the same way.  At the same time, I couldn’t keep it to myself much longer.  I knew I had to tell him eventually.  I tried to prepare myself for what would happen next, then I told L. how much I liked him.

It was like the entire world was lifted off my shoulders.  I had jumped my biggest social hurtle and stuck the landing.  After hearing that he liked me, too, I knew I could do anything.  It was then, at that moment, that I really opened up.  After that, I became more comfortable at school, because I knew I could talk to people.  Even if someone turned out to be a jerk, it didn’t matter; I could go talk to someone else.

I’m proud of who I’ve become.  Meeting L. changed me for the better, and I’m so grateful to have him in my life.

Trial & Error
I’ve had my share of downfalls at school.  As I’ve mentioned, I’d been elected to serve as Law Clerk during my second year.  Near the beginning of that year, I noticed a rule in our law book that was not enforced.  It said that all School Meeting Members were responsible for checking their own sentences off the JC sentence list.  For the past several years, however, the JC Clerks had been the ones to check the list.  I decided to call attention to the issue.

I talked to Mark, the staff Law Clerk, and we came up with wording for a new rule, with the help of another student.  After many long discussions, School Meeting voted in our idea.  This new rule said that it was indeed the defendant’s responsibility to check off his or her own sentences.  In addition, anyone who did not check off their sentences would be charged fifty cents for every day their sentences went un-checked.

This new plan did very little, other than create a mess of JC cases.  Many people did not understand the correct way to check off sentences.  Other people forgot repeatedly to check the list, and still others simply didn’t care to follow the rule.  On top of that, most people did not want to pay their fines, or would pay them to the wrong person.

This resulted in massive amounts of write ups, which backed up the system even after the rule was stricken.  Eventually, we just had to accept that the rule was a flop.  Though it was disappointing to have my idea backfire, I definitely think it was worth trying.  It could have been a great improvement on the JC system, had it actually worked, and I’m glad we gave it a shot. Even though I’m no longer the Law Clerk, I want to stay involved in the JC system.  I’m always thinking of new ideas that could improve the system, though none of them have been put into action.

While this was certainly my biggest failure at Fairhaven, it is by no means the only one.  Other failures include not being elected JC Clerk, or having a motion fail in School Meeting.  Just recently, I plead “not guilty” in JC for the first time, only to be charged with Dangerous Activities and warned by School Meeting the following week.

Over this past winter break, I started my first job.  I have a few routes delivering The Washington Post in Bowie, which I do with L. every night.  This means getting up at one o’clock in the morning and driving to the warehouse to bag a few hundred newspapers, then driving around tossing them into customers’ driveways.  We have gotten to the point where we can do it all in about two hours and thirty minutes.  If the weather is bad, it takes longer.  When it rains or snows, we have to double bag every paper so they don’t get wet.  If it’s windy, we might have to stop and replace papers if they’re blown into the street.

We rarely make mistakes while working, and our boss recently assigned us another route, which has about doubled the number of papers we deliver.  We’ve also filled in for other carriers on more than one occasion, which significantly increases the amount of work we do.

I also work at school, mostly doing JC business until recently.  Law Clerk duties include filling in for the JC Clerks when they need time off, and making regular stops in JC to check up on meetings and answer questions about certain rules and regulations.  The Law Clerk also runs the Judicial School Meeting, a portion of our weekly School Meeting designated to dealing with not guilty pleas.

As the School Meeting Secretary, I type up the School Meeting agenda and keep a record the minutes.  I picked up on it quickly, and now I really enjoy doing it.  I like keeping the minutes organized, and being able to tell someone whether or not their motion passed.  It can be frustrating at times, especially if there are very long discussions on one topic, or if someone has put some ridiculous motion on the agenda.  For the most part, however, it’s something I am good at and like doing.

Down Time
My mother taught me to crochet when I was eleven, and I still do it now.  When I want to relax my brain, I crochet.  If I need to give my hands an activity, I grab a skein.  When I discover I don’t have a belt to go with my outfit, I simply make one.  I’m rather talented with a hook and some yarn.

Crochet is one of my passions.  I do it for fun, as well as for profit.  Scarves take shape at the dinner table.  My dog has his own Lil’ Monster, a stuffed toy of my own design.  This thesis is the only thing delaying my new hat – oh, never mind, already done.
I’ll be crocheting forever.  It’s such a handy craft; you can make just about anything you want, from hats and blankets, to purses and dolls.

Another one of my passions is writing.  I love to write poems and short stories, but I’m prone to writer’s block.  When I have enough inspiration to finish a piece, it feels amazing.  I get a rush reading my completed poems.  Seeing my thoughts laid out in such an artistic manner is very cool to me.

I also love food.  For the past couple of years, I have been on a vegan diet.  Recently, I’ve started buying eggs from a family at school who raises their own chickens.  While I’m no longer strictly vegan, it can still be hard to buy groceries, as I am still “mostly vegan”.

I love to cook, however, and I love making up new dishes.  I find cooking very fun and rewarding.  I like to experiment with different flavours and try out new recipes.  I’m currently on the hunt for a good vegan doughnut recipe.

The Future
While I don’t plan on attending a four-year college, I do have plans to further my education.  I’d like to take some college-level writing courses.  I’d like to pursue writing as a career, but I feel that I should improve my skills further.  I’m interested in interior design as well, but I haven’t decided where I want to go with it.  I may decide to take interior design classes, or I may simply stick to my own tastes as a hobby rather than a career.

One plan I have for my future is to open a family restaurant.  My mother and L.’s mother are both amazing cooks, and we think it could be worthwhile to make it into a business.  For this reason, I’d like to take cooking and business classes, which my mother is interested in doing with me.

My other big plan for the future is to start an intentional community with my family and several of our friends.  I don’t want to have to rely on others to survive; I want to be self-sustaining.  My mother, L. and I have an interest in gardening and growing our own food.  We start a garden at my house every summer, and it’s usually quite productive.

We are also very into green technology, and we have a few ideas for supplying power to our community.  New designs for wind turbines and solar dishes are effective enough to provide electricity for numerous houses.  Another new product is solar film, which is more effective and durable than panels, and it can be built directly into surfaces, including roofs.  However, some these new technologies are also quite pricey, or are still in development, so this plan may not be put into action until further down the road.

Right now, my plan is to save money to buy a “new” car, as mine is, sadly, on its last legs.  I’d like to give my current car a new identity by trying to convert it to electric power.  I would also like to save up enough to move out of my parents’ house in the next year or so, and buy a small house with L. somewhere in this area.

I’m going to miss Fairhaven.  This school has helped shape me more than all the other school’s I’ve attended combined.  It’s going to be really hard to leave, but I know this is the right time to go.  I’ve done a lot of growing and learning, and I’ve gotten all I can out of Fairhaven.  It wouldn’t be right for me to stay longer.

Three years ago, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a girl, weird and unhappy.  Now when I look, a young woman stares back.  I’m no longer timid, but fierce.  No longer a child, but a responsible, effective adult.  I have the skills to care for myself, and I can be trusted.  I try to be the best person I can, always.

I’m still awkward sometimes, but there are worse things to be.  And I’m sure I’m still naïve, and will be for years to come.  But that’s okay.  I’m still weird, but happy.  Because I know I can do great things.  I can do anything I can imagine.  I’m ready to take on the world.

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