You all know me as Ella, but over my Phoenix years, I could have been called determined, obstinate, persevering, committed, dedicated, stubborn, resolute, and any other word that means determined. My mind is always set on one thing, getting what I want no matter how much work it takes to get there. I’ve always been a determined person, which has a lot of pros, but it can also be quite annoying. It’s fantastic for getting the work I want to get done and not so great for the work I don’t. Let me explain.
As a small kindergartener reading was something I wanted to explore, a mysterious way to gather information through pages of words. Everyone around me was flipping through book after book and I wanted to be just like them. I picked up the hardest books I could find and snuck them into my backpack to take home at night, hoping Betsye wouldn’t notice the difference between them and phonics books. I tried so hard to read them, but no matter what I did everything looked like nonsense. I didn’t want to ask for help and neither did I want to sit next to a teacher or an older partner and embarrass myself.
When it was time for partner reading, I was stuck. I didn’t have a choice. I had to read out loud. I grabbed my book every day, obstinate to do anything and everything I could to avoid reading. After wandering for 10 minutes, checking my backpack 89 times, 34 water bubbler trips, and a good 15 minutes in the bathroom I couldn’t think of anything else to do. I had to read. When I read and found a word I didn’t know I would stop, quickly look around the room, and continue the page, after ignoring the word. It wasn’t the best strategy because, in the end, my older partners started catching on and then I was really stuck. It was a hard mountain to overcome for me and reading is still not my absolute favorite thing to do, but I’m not so obstinate about reading anymore.
Persevering wasn’t always a word that describes me, but that changed. Listening to older kids read their creative writing inspired me to write like them. WOW words slipped out of their mouths so effortlessly. Their stories painted movies in my mind, making me feel the emotions the story was releasing. I wanted to write like them, but I was convinced that I couldn’t do it, or at least not as good as those older kids.
Attempt after attempt, I tried so hard. All I got was a flood of frustration. Everything I wrote seemed good until I read it out loud and listened to others’. Everyone else’s words seemed so much more complicated and their images seemed so much more real, but that did not stop me. I persevered. I tried so hard week after week. There it was, my name in the 100 Word Challenge showcase. Mine was one of the best pieces of writing in hundreds. I was so proud. I persevered and learned not to give up.
Venomous lionfish were ready to strike at any moment. I knew they were skulking below waiting for me to adjust my snorkel and dive in. Just as I was starting to worry an older kid told me if it spined me I was going to die. Stubborn me decided there was no way I was going to touch the water. I was scared and refused to go in. It seemed like a death wish. However, I didn’t have a choice. I dug my heels in the sand and wouldn’t move. My poor partner talked to me nonstop before escorting me to the water’s edge. I paddled above the water and didn’t even think about looking down, but again I had no choice. I didn’t understand the world below me that would soon become my passion. My mask entered the water. Warm waves swayed over my face. I immediately fell in love. My heart was happy and I was where I wanted to be. The lionfish still lurked below but now I wanted to see them. Being stubborn kept me from going into the water then, but know it keeps me in the water.
Honestly, I thought I had figured out that I was just one of those people with a closed mindset when it came to math. Wrong! Every time Betsye put a new math problem into my math journal I remained resolute. I wasn’t willing to let my mind open up and try it. I set myself up for failure. I was embarrassed to ask for help and I didn’t want to show that I didn’t know some things. Somehow Betsye and Barbara pulled me out of that mindset making me the math thinker I am today. They helped me through it by letting me figure out my own techniques and ways to show my thinking. Overtime problems started to make way more sense to me and new challenges excited me. I was ready to take on the next algebra book and then move on to more advanced math. Now I am resolute in exploring math and not avoiding it.
Starting out at Phoenix I was a perfectionist. I needed everything to look exactly right or else I would freak out. I was young so I was still learning how to draw. Frustration fueled me. I never understood how the 8th graders found it easy to draw something that looked so real and perfect. I would be so proud of my notecard and then take one look over at theirs and feel like mine was terrible. Overcoming this mountain was a tough one I worked so hard to be proud of the art I produced. I was determined to get better. I wanted to one day be someone else’s inspiration like they were to me. Nobody is perfect, especially me.
Taking risks and making mistakes is a huge part of learning. In my time at Phoenix, I have made many mistakes. At my high school, The Academy at Penguin Hall, that might not change automatically, and I hope it doesn’t because every time I make a mistake I will be determined to make my work better the next time.
Committed, dedicated, determined.
Splashing into the cool, blue sea of my memories, I’m reminded of the struggles and victories I have been faced with for just over two Phoenix years. In no way shape or form am I finished with my journey, but I’m making my way there. My Phoenix path has helped me see my full potential. Whether it was finding my science eyes or taking my first stroke in the pool, there’s always something to learn from every experience.
The beginning of my Phoenix path was full of twists and turns for I was not yet a true Phoenix kid. It began at the mouth of the masher, a 250-foot long cave crawl of fear. As the line of anxious kids grew shorter and shorter, the weaker my knees became. It felt like I was slowly sinking in one hundred feet of water with no way up. In reality, all that awaited me was a dry passageway. What if I get stuck? What if the 200 ft of rock above my head comes crashing down? What if, what if, what if? Like many experiences at Phoenix I just had to suck it up and try my best. Ever so slowly I started the crawl, first on my hands and knees, then flat on my stomach. With every passing inch, I felt safer. After pulling myself through the clay-stained tunnel the tight space opened up to a large room, but the crawl wasn’t over yet. The hard part was still to come. Squeezing into the final few feet of the crawl, the space got tighter and tighter until it felt like I couldn’t go any farther. I kept going until I heard the excited shouts of my peers as they came to the end of our adventure. With a smile on my face and confidence in my heart, I knew I had made it! This was just the beginning of my Phoenix path to greatness.
Sitting at the Y pool, knees shaking with fear, I stared into my greatest challenge. Even though my whole life has been spent on the seashore, the never-ending water has always scared me. My biggest fear about coming to Phoenix was that I knew that swim lessons were in my future. As I stood there on the first day I wished I were back at school, safe and dry. My heart beat faster as name after name was called for the swim test. All I had to do was jump in and swim to the end of the pool, but to me, it seemed impossible. I stood up, shaking. Creeping to the edge, toes peeking over the side, I took a deep breath. Every part of me wished to turn and run. Taking one last look around, I closed my eyes, held my nose, and jumped into the waiting waters beneath me. Bubbles rocketed up around me as I floated motionlessly in the watery depths. With no breath left in my lungs, I returned to the surface smiling. I splashed my way to the other side of the pool, relishing in the cooling water. Fear flew out of me, leaving courage and pride in its place.
Like the endless ocean, a pure white, blank note card laid in front of me. I had chosen my tropical fish. All that was left was to draw it. Easy! Right? That’s what I thought. Betsye called out, reminding us to use our “science eyes.” Science eyes? What are those and where can I get a pair? I searched the room for a hint to what they might be, but everyone was just drawing as normal, no special glasses or anything. I sheepishly made my way towards Betsye, hoping she would provide me with the needed equipment. After much explanation, I finally understood that I had everything I needed.
All those days of practice in the pool perfecting my strokes led up to me with my wetsuit on and snorkel gear ready so I could brave the rough waters of Catalina Island. I charged into the water ready for anything. Icy water seeped into my wetsuit and sent chills throughout my body. I positioned my mask, kicked off the bottom and immersed myself fully within Catalina’s underwater life. My flashlight beam illuminated the bottom as I searched for creatures that call this place their home. Flash! A leopard shark darts by, sending shivers throughout my whole body. All around me, garibaldi battle for territory and brush up against me. Just think! At the start of my Phoenix journey, I would have done everything within my power to avoid stepping foot into the water. Now I never want to leave!
Math! Like getting water in my ears when I was younger, math brought me to tears. Temporary brain pain was the name of the game. Algebra was, and still is, like jumping in the deep end of the pool. I pushed on day after day. It sometimes made my stomach turn. Recently my attitude has vastly improved. I’ve actually found myself enjoying math from time to time. There is something magical about finding solutions to real life problems using just numbers, and letters. I know next year will be a challenge in math, but I’m up for diving into a sea of possibilities head first.
Just like I streamline off the wall of the Salem State pool, my fingers fly across keys as I write. Creative writing, scientific writing, persuasive writing… I’m learning them all! My head is always full of ideas for stories, poems, or essays. It all started with boring, complicated paragraphs. Ever so slowly I found within myself the creativity that I was lacking before. Now I can take my readers on journeys through unparalleled worlds using nothing but my words. Soon I hope to illustrate my stories. Someday I want to write lyrics too. There’s still so much to be learned, but I can feel myself getting closer and closer every day.
I was gifted with incredible role models growing up, so it seems only fair that I give others what I had. Here at Phoenix, I was given an opportunity to watch over my partners and teams like their own personal lifeguard, especially when working with the youngest students. I feel proud that I have been a part of each and every Phoenix kids’ journeys. I will remember the strategies I have developed as I swim into the next phase of my life–high school at The Academy at Penguin Hall. Though I may be leaving the school behind, I will pack all my memories and get ready to let the adventure unfold.
Written by Raya, Phoenix Graduate 2019
Everglades Study Field Trip
Day 2: Tuesday, March 26, 2019
With a late sleep in after last night’s late adventure, we gladly devoured Kyle’s and Jim’s pancakes before heading back to see what bright sunshine would reveal that darkness hid from us only hours before. The slough was alive with sounds of the day. Birds argued, warning others to stay away. Giant anhinga chicks screeching in their nest demanding more and more food from their tireless parents overhead. Fish made their presence known as they surfaced and splashed everywhere. Silent alligators glided along the surface of the still pond, submerging silently as they searched for prey.
Too soon we had say, “Later, Gator,” as we headed for the Daniel Beard Research Center to meet Marine Ecologist, Christopher Kavanaugh. We were most privileged to be invited behind the scenes, where scientists work to ensure the health of the Everglades, now and into the future long after their work is done.
Christopher transported us back in history telling the story of the River of Grass from its very beginning. We began to understand why this place, unique in the world, is so important to preserve, and why both nature and humankind need to co-exist and thrive, keeping sacred this delicate balance. Ask us about elevation, salinity, drought, water depth, flora and fauna, and environmental issues. Thanks to Christopher’s patience in answering all of our questions and sharing his obvious passion, we leave with in-depth understanding and the resolve to make a difference for this dynamic and precious ecosystem.
A cooling dip in our little spring fed lagoon-pool back at the hostel refreshed us after our nearly 90-degree day. What a treat to have come from Massachusetts’ big chill to south Florida’s mid-summer-like heat. Kids splashed, breeched, glided underwater, and braved the waterfall gauntlet together before getting back to our journals.
In the fairy light studded gazebo, we broke out our watercolors to paint the Everglades night. How do we represent the feeling of being enclosed in darkness, hearing the music of the glades? It was a good problem to solve, stretching our talents and imaginations.
Everyone wanted to share their Night Walk writing, so before we retired for the night, we listened to the night through each others’ words.
Written by Barbara McFall, Founder of The Phoenix School
You can see all our photos here!
Everglades Study Field Trip
Day 1: Monday, March 25, 2019
Phoenix School kids gathered like squawking anhingas waiting to check in for their flight to the Everglades for a week of science and adventure. Upon landing, Kyle and Jim met Mike, Barbara and 8 Phoenix kids, all Everglades experts excited to learn in the field what they had researched in school. We loaded our gear into Kyle’s truck and headed for dinner–our first adventure. Kyle led us to a food truck gathering, where we each chose a delicacy from one of the many trucks serving tasty ethnic specialties. Kyle treated us to a delicious meal and the best lemon-limeade ever before we set off to listen to the music of the Everglades.
Darkness descended well before we reached our destination so we were left wondering what lurked in the inky black that lay beyond our ribbon of road. We marveled at the sky with more stars than we can ever see in Salem. Soon we left the comfort of our cars behind and walked through the shadows to the trailhead. We felt encompassed by the velvety night as we started down the Anhinga Trail that looped just above the slough. Into the darkness we walked, one by one, alone and on our own, protected by the rails of the boardwalk, but open to the noises of the night. It was a solo-walk into the night, some of us striving to hear the Everglades speak to us, some of us more wary than others. Let snippets from our journals describe the lure of the glades we all felt.
Emma: I stand looking out at the still water, unable to fully comprehend what I’m seeing. It’s eerie, being here by myself, in this slough devoid of human touch. I never knew how loud the night could be until now. It’s an orchestra of birds and insects; everyone has a place in the choir. I can hear the balance of nature around me, and though it’s loud, it’s also quiet and tranquil.
Quentin: Standing in the moonlight, I looked out at the shimmering waters of the Everglades. I closed my eyes and listened to the symphonic cacophony of the night animals. My nose was flooded with the scent of brackish water and flowering plants. The Everglades delighted all my senses.
Lucas: A forest of calm is unbroken by voices and preserved for me to walk alone inside. I can barely differentiate the trees from the wooden path in this monochrome landscape. The Big Dipper almost illuminates alligator filled water that refuses to be pierced due to the endless nightscape’s grasp on the trail.
Julia: Mosquitos haunt my ears as the boardwalk in front of me curves into the mysterious dark. Unexpected splashes sound on each side of me. Shimmering stars from vibrant to dim guide me with their light. Dark calming night surrounds me in comfort and life.
James: Fish aggressively slap their tails on the water’s surface, sending shivers up my back. Tall grass gracefully sways to the song of the crickets making me want to join in. The illuminated moon shines above, looking down at this hidden treasure. I feel lost, but in no hurry to find myself.
Arianna: Mosquitos bit my arms and legs as I walked along the bridge. My mind was out of control thinking about a million things at once. I walked slowly and breathed in and out. Eventually I calmed down. I tried not to think of any alligators coming my way.
Raya: Two paths, two different directions. Guided by the stars and fate, my path is chosen. Boards creak under my feet making me extra aware. Shadowed spots that lay before me send shivers all through me. Heart racing, I fear the worst. Hopefully answers are in the stars. With my gaze tilted upward, I finally feel safe.
Ella: I begin my trek down the long looped boardwalk. My ears tingle at the sound of swishes and splashes below in the murky water. Two eyes and a snout rise barely above the surface. Everything around it becomes blurry as my eyes only focus on the prehistoric creature that rules the slough.
No one wanted to leave the slough so Mike, Kyle, and Jim lit up the waters with their flashlights, revealing jumping fish, cruising gators and pairs of yellow or red eyes flickering from the darkness. Eventually we had to concede that tomorrow would be coming too soon, so we packed it in and headed for our youth hostel. We all earned an extra hour or so of sleeping in.
Brackish water fills my shoe, saturating my sock, as I take my first step. In the distance a lone bobcat cries out, sending fear through my body. Another step causes me to slightly sink in the slick mud. Fear sinks to the bottom of my stomach. Just let me not come face to face with the mouth of an alligator! I keep moving forward making my way through the cloudy water. Mangroves tower over me, blocking out the majority of the sunlight. It’s been a dream of mine to be in the presence of these swamp trees. Every step sends fear through my veins. I take one more and I fall backwards. My instincts kick in and my hand grabs onto a mangrove branch. I always knew my leafy friend would save me one day! After that encounter, nothing can shake me!Everglades AnticipationRaya ~ 8th Grade
Posted by The Phoenix School, Salem, MA on Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Founder of the Phoenix School provides a window into the unique and dynamic approach to the academic philosophy behind this K-8th grade school.
You heard it first here on Find out about Phoenix!
Tell us what content you want to learn about next?
Founder of the Phoenix School provides a window into the unique and dynamic approach to the academic philosophy behind this K-8th grade school.You heard it first here on Find out about Phoenix!Tell us what content you want to learn about next?#phoenixfounders Barbara McFall & Betsye Sargent
Posted by The Phoenix School, Salem, MA on Thursday, February 21, 2019