Shout-Out to The Field School, D.C. Wonder

I don’t usually write with much specificity, because if we tell tales that are general, others can join in and imagine doing the (fill in the blank) inspiring thing themselves.

This time, I’m naming names.  And The Field School in D.C. gets a shout-out.

I love this place.

Last week I went to a graduation at which I knew no graduates, except very peripherally.  Because it’s the best show in town in terms of celebrating individuals for who they are.  And that is a wonder to behold, an encouragement, an “I can’t hold back the tears” delight in this generic day and age.  Yes, we talk blah-blah-blah about individuals and their rights.  But we don’t stop enough and say, “You’re glorious just because.”

I’m not a fan of the “participation trophy.”  That’s not what I’m extolling.  That smacks of “You’re gonna have a meltdown if you don’t get a gift on your sister’s birthday so we need to appease you, you weak little ego-centric monster.”  Yucky stuff.

What I do love is the “You were made in God’s image and you matter” ilk of celebration.  And though Field doesn’t put that language on it overtly, its founder Elizabeth Ely did… and it shows.

What’s so splendiferous about Field’s graduation is that each graduate gets a chance to speak.  The prescribed length is about a minute.  Some teenagers are compliant; many are not.  It’s their day.  It works out.  Many thank teachers by name, mentioning private jokes or funny moments; plenty say that the last 5 months or 3 weeks of their lives with their particular significant other have been the most amazing (common word) time in their lives.  Tellingly, plenty mention the maintenance and security staff, school psychologist, teachers they never had in the classroom, the women who work in the office — and not just as asides but as friends, as mentors, even as surrogate parents.

But the graduation speeches that really get me are the ones that talk about transformation that has happened at a place where kids do have a chance to flourish in a state of grace and acceptance, where (from where I stand) cliques are surprisingly few, where the kid who pins a dollar bill to his shirt every day in 7th grade to remind himself that he’s worth something is welcome to without derision, where clubs might be devoted to Twilight Zone, North Carolina, Apples to Apples or Quantum Physics, where studio arts happen every day for every student, where students are treated with incredible respect (and teachers seem to be too, even as — or especially because — they are called by their first names).  Most of all, for the Field students I have known best, Field was a place where learning became a joy (often for the first time), where they learned to love learning.

And learned to love themselves.  I’ve been to five graduations in a row, I think (two of them particularly relevant to my family) and have heard some amazing testimonies in those one-minute speeches.  This year a kid talked about being a “one man wolfpack” and expecting it to stay that way but ending up by graduation with a “wolfpack” that included the whole motley crew of fellow graduates.  Kids by the handful refer to their journeys from other (unnamed, pressure-cooker) D.C. private schools, saying that “I finally found a school where I didn’t have to fake sick all the time and could stay in the classroom, engaged.” Or “I just thought I wasn’t cut out for school, but I hadn’t found this one yet.”

The best might have been a particular guy who said, “This school turned me into somebody I could love.”  But actually, at least one someone says that every year.  Now there’s a successful educational pathway.

Field isn’t perfect.  But it’s a joyous place where adults treat kids well, where kids treat each other well, where kids treat adults well and … well… where kids learn to love themselves and love learning.  A+

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~ by Cary on June 26, 2010.

8 Responses to “Shout-Out to The Field School, D.C. Wonder”

  1. Amen, Cary! Thanks for staying engaged at Field and writing such an important piece. Field is a warm memory in my family’s life. I will always be so grateful to Elizabeth for all that she stood for and taught there— to all of us: parents, staff, faculty, kids.

  2. Thanks for this Cary!

  3. It says something about how well Field lives its mission that what’s observed mirrors that mission: guiding the individual towards generosity of heart, skills of mind, and self-discovery. It’s incredibly affirming to read your ‘bearing witness’ to those achievements in all their kaleidoscopic marvel. Many thanks for ‘testifying’!!

  4. Wow. I was skeptical at the thought of a school — especially a graduation — being worth all that much excitement, but by the end you had me convinced that this must be pretty special.

  5. Yea, I was skeptical too and thought people had had some Kool-aid or something. But it’s a pretty cool place.

  6. Wow. Never heard of this school before. Sounds like a wonderful place where I would love to have gone or to have had my kids attend.

    • A very special place. If I’d designed one, it would be pretty close to this. The woman who did do it was amazing — Elizabeth Ely.

  7. […] the Manzaris for a few years as — simply — friends of my son, a former student at D.C.’s Field School (last week’s shout-out subject).  My son was constantly telling me that “these guys […]

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