Yellow Jackets And Angry Chairs (first 2010 Graduation Thesis)

(Fairhaven School has just graduated five students. As a way to celebrate the class of 2010, over the next month, we will be posting the theses that they  successfully defended. In italics below is a brief description outlining how somebody earns a Fairhaven diploma, followed by the seventh and final 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.)

Yellow Jackets and Angry Chairs

Because ‘effective adult’ is a subjective term, I believe I should share my personal definition.  An effective adult in my opinion is an adaptive, self-sufficient individual.  I do not believe that age plays a very significant role in determining the effectiveness of a person in the larger community.  While it may be more difficult at times for a younger person to achieve the same goals as a legal adult, I believe with enough determination and maturity, nearly anyone can be self-sufficient and effective.  Furthermore, I believe that I am still on my way to becoming my ideal version of an effective adult.  I still have plenty to learn and experience before I would call myself completely effective, however, I believe I am off to a good start and headed in the right direction.

I began attending Fairhaven School when I was four years old, prior to its existence at its current location.  In 1997, Fairhaven was a co-op held in a house on the Pittman’s farm in Davidsonville.  It was only a part-time school; students enrolled there were considered to be homeschooled by the state of Maryland.  I can recall learning many life lessons at the co-op. These included how to use a broom, improving my chess skills and discovering debate through arguments over the existence of faeries.  One particularly memorable experience I had happened when I was on a walk with former staff member Romey Pittman, and I managed to irritate a nest full of yellow jackets.  I got stung by four yellow jackets in succession, and had to be taken back to the school to be treated.  Even though I had just been stung multiple times, I felt compassion for the wasps, and I was sad that I had upset them.  I’m told that despite the fact that I was in pain, right after I was stung I grinned and said “They must like my African-American meat!”  The co-op was a great place for me to begin learning skills that I still use today and will aid me in becoming an effective adult.

When I was three years old, I began taking violin lessons with a Suzuki accredited teacher until she recommended I play piano.  She told my parents about a piano instructor named Dr. Oster.  I took lessons from Dr. Oster for about a year and a half, and during that time I learned quite a bit about the piano.  When I was four years old, Dr. Oster invited me to play with some of her other students at a recital at the French Embassy in Washington, DC.  I recall practicing very hard to learn the song, and being nervous on the day of the recital.  In the end the recital went very well and I received high praise from the audience and my instructor.  From this experience I began learning the benefits of self-discipline and working hard to achieve my goals.

At Fairhaven I have been a clerk on the Judicial Committee three times and Alternate JC Clerk three times.  My first experience clerking full time was with Anna Droege; I was 11 years old and she was 10.  Being a clerk at that age was a big responsibility for me.  I had to remember to do the sentence list before JC, run the meeting or write the reports, and enter the case information into the database after each meeting.  At the time, one of the duties of the JC Clerks was enter the JC reports into the computer database after each meeting, a job the school’s secretary now handles.  Because I had good spelling skills I wrote most of the reports and did most of the database entry. Clerking could be considered one of my first jobs because of the skills that I was required to have and learn, and the amount of time I had to be willing to commit.  I recall dealing with some challenging cases and people in JC, and through that experience I improved my managerial skills and learned how to be a more patient person.

I have been a member of several corporations and committees at Fairhaven over the years.  These include Public Relations, Art Corporation, Music Corporation, and the failed Chicken Corporation.  I was also the Executive Director of Kitchen Corporation from 2004 to 2005, and I have been the Executive Director of Digital Arts Corporation since 2008.  As the Executive Director of DA Corporation, I run the meetings and help manage the budget.  I also am the sole certifier for the Digital Arts iMac and its miscellaneous hard and software.  At the beginning of the school year two years ago, I was voted successor of the previous Executive Director and at the time, the iMac was in a state of disarray.  There were no designated folders for students to save their work and no limitations on how much memory each student was allowed to consume.  Pretty much all of the RAM was in use when I began working on the Mac, and people had saved files in completely random folders.  It took two weeks of research, deleting files and password protecting folders that were not for general use for the iMac to be in a useable state.  I became more competent with Macintoshes during those two weeks, and even though I am nowhere near mastering that operating system, I’m happy that I was able to succeed at that task by myself.  In many of the corporations that I have been involved with, I have certified School Meeting Members for the various tools the corporation offered.  Being a certifier means that I have to be willing to get up and go teach someone how to properly operate the object in hand, even if I am having a lackluster day.  I have been accountable for certifying Fairhaveners for many things, including how to operate a sewing machine, graphics tablet, scanner, iMac, microwave and conventional ovens, knives, and Photoshop CS2.  I learned how to be a better teacher and I got better at operating some of the aforementioned devices through certifying people.  General knowledge is essential in the outside world, and I believe that I gained some through teaching others at Fairhaven.

When I was seven years old, I had to leave Fairhaven because of the tuition increase.  I left mid-year, which was devastating to me at the time.  I homeschooled for the next three years, but my parents were only involved in homeschooling me for the first year.  My father was unemployed for about a year and stayed at home with me, although he did not do very much teaching.  The next two years were spent at other homeschooled families’ houses, primarily my friend Gillian Brown and my godsister Jasmin Hall’s houses.  I missed Fairhaven so much and pleaded with my parents to let me return, but they could not afford to pay for the tuition.  I believe Fairhaven is a better choice for me, however, I learned some beneficial skills from my three-year homeschooling stint. These include how to entertain myself and how to get along with people that I was constantly around.  My cooking also improved when I was homeschooled, which I think is a crucial skill for an effective adult to have.

When I was eight or nine, I enrolled in an eight-week animation class in Greenbelt, taught by George ‘Mr. Geo’ Kochell.  There, I learned how to make claymation films.  I made a short film entitled The Angry Chair, in which the New York Stock Exchange bell awakens a giant chair, sending him into a rage and ultimately causes him to eat Enron.  I recall reading the newspaper briefly while brainstorming story ideas for my film and seeing an article about Enron’s downfall.  Not knowing anything about Enron, I made up a story about how they reached their demise.  Mr. Geo entered some of his students’ films into various film festivals, and one day in 2002, he told my parents that my film got accepted to the Ottawa ’03 International Student Animation Festival.  In October of that year, I flew with my mom to Ottawa, Ontario to attend the festival.  There were lots of really great animations; my favorite was a series of German films about a man who always wore an electric blanket.  My film did not win any awards, although I did get recognition for it.  Going to Canada was a really great experience; I remember trying to decipher the weather forecast because it was in Celsius, learning about different kinds of animation and tools, and being educated about local foods.  I believe that the chance I had to be really creative turned into a greater learning experience, and I ended up becoming worldlier because of it.

Another incident that I have experienced that has caused me to grow significantly is my estrangement from my mother.  One night in May, 2008, my mother dispossessed me from her home.  We had been having communication issues for many years; I disliked quite a few of her parenting tactics and she felt that she did not need to evaluate or change her tactics since she was the adult in the relationship and had authority over everything.  Needless to say, that caused problems in our relationship.  Since then, I have lived exclusively with my father, with no financial support from my mother.  This has been a burden for my father, especially when he was unemployed again in September, 2008.  This time he was unemployed for six months, and there were times when our water and electricity was shut off.  I definitely worried that I was going to have to leave Fairhaven, and he told me a couple of times that I was probably going to attend a public school.  A couple months after my dad became jobless, I started applying for positions at fast food restaurants, the only places that were offering positions for 15 year olds. In December of that year, I was hired as a Customer Service Representative at Domino’s Pizza, a position I still hold today.  These experiences have been very hard for me, but I have become a much stronger and more effective person because of them.  I have gained work experience and independence and I know that when I move out, I will be able to live by myself successfully.

For the last two school years, I have known that I wanted to go to art school, and I educated myself about the things I needed to learn in order to get accepted.  Last school year I began taking SAT Preparation courses at Fairhaven.  These included Algebra, Geometry and English classes.  I learned so much in those classes that was imperative to getting a decent score on the SAT Reasoning Test.  I took the PSATs twice before taking the SAT this January, which I believe also helped improve my score because I was more familiar with the testing process.  This school year I also searched for and applied to colleges.  I narrowed down my candidates to three: Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design in Denver, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Oregon College of Art and Craft in Portland.  I have been accepted by all three colleges, and all of them have awarded me with merit and talent scholarships.  Taking the SAT and applying for college has really given me a sense of working with deadlines, which is something I’ve needed to learn as I become an effective adult.

To conclude my thesis, I believe an effective adult is a self-sufficient and adaptive person that does not necessarily have to be a legal adult.  While I am working steadily towards becoming a completely effective person, I do not believe I am quite there yet.  I have had many experiences that have helped guide me to become a capable being in the outside world, including maintaining a steady job, learning how to enjoy solitary pursuits through homeschooling, studying for the SAT, and searching for colleges without the aid of an advisor.  I will continue to work hard towards becoming a more self-sufficient and adaptive person, and I am looking forward to attending college next fall.

Imani Stewart

Fairhaven School Class of 2010

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