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.
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.
Imagining and Examining the Everglades at the Phoenix School
by Joey Phoenix
Spring is finally here and the students at The Phoenix School are gearing up for their annual adventure. This year, they’re trekking down to the Florida Everglades.
Trips like these have been part of the school’s curriculum for years now as a way to create an engaging project that’s adaptable across age, ability, and learning style. This year’s trip focus is on the ecology, including both flora and fauna, as well as the issues of social and environmental change affecting southeast Florida.
These young students are such an incredible voice for change, and their trips to these places equip them with knowledge and experiences they can bring back with them to reshape their world.
So for the past few weeks, all of the students at the school have been researching and prepping for their journey. The 6th-8th graders will actually be traveling to the southern tip of Florida where they will spend several days exploring Everglades National Park, and the Kindergarten through 5th graders will be taking part in an imaginary trip which will take place in the school also during that time.
The older kids will be basing their operations at a youth hostel just outside Everglades, and from there they’ll be able to make day trips to explore different aspects of the National Park. One of the highlights of the trip is a 15 mile bike ride though Shark Valley where they’ll get to see lots of things, including tiny alligators who frequently cross the path in search of new watering holes.
While the older kids are encountering alligators in the wild, the younger kids will stage an Everglades trip of their own, imagining everything from going through airport security, making plane tickets, flying a plane (and often “crashing” it in Florida to the accompaniment of Google Earth on the projector. They also will transform their benches into imaginary kayaks, use long poles and pool noodles to make pretend oars, and go on a make-believe kayaking trip through the Mangroves.
To prepare, the students have been creating research guides, where they create visual aids to help them understand what they’ll be seeing on the trip, take notes to explain the visual guides and keep track of any new vocabulary they learn along the way.
Each of the research guide’s requirements is modified to fit the student’s learning styles and level. More advanced students will create elaborate visual aids and will work on shortening their notes and writing in their own voice, while younger students will learn about composition and observation.
This way, everyone can get those kinds of lessons doing their own research. It’s also important to recognize that one kid’s work doesn’t necessarily need to look like another kid’s work for it to be well done, they’re going to do it at their own level and think about the kind of things that interest them. For example, some students may focus on the chemistry aspect of the research while others will want to look into flowering plants or regional wildlife.
If each student has their own learning style, way of processing, and special talents and abilities, they should be allowed to do the kind of work that allows them to develop those skills on their own merits, and projects like these are just one more thing the Phoenix School does to make that possible.
About the Phoenix School:
Phoenix is an experience-driven learning community that gives kids the tools, thoughts, and experiences that will help them become the best versions of themselves and fosters their development as contributors to society. At Phoenix, we emphasize process over product, implementing project-based learning through our curriculum to help students think critically, explore deeply, challenge themselves, contribute positively to their world, and learn more from their failures and celebrate their successes. Our core values are creativity, perseverance, citizenship, and empathy.
Each year Essex National Heritage Area opens its “doors” to our county, over two weekends, to us all, for Trails & Sails. At the heart of the Phoenix philosophy, “Learning in an Adventure” and “Anywhere Can be a Classroom”, so…we ask that you all engage in learning together and participate in a Family Extended Learning Assignment.
Enjoy a variety of guided walks, paddles, historical tours and other adventures for all ages, skill levels and interests, that will connect you to the spectacular places, history, and heritage that define the Essex National Heritage Area—the 34 cities and towns of Boston ’s legendary North Shore. It’s all FREE and it’s all located within the 34 cities and towns of Essex County.
Please plan to visit one of the several locations listed on the Trails and Sails website either this weekend OR next and complete a journal entry together. A journal entry can be submitted as an email and should include drawings, words, and a creatively worded reflection from each family member and send to Leslie, this is an awesome way to participate in a typical Phoenix School exercise!