Large, loosely aggregated snowflakes fell gently to the Quad as we – students and faculty – stood in a circle, each bundled in multiple layers, waiting for 6:45am and our daily morning Gather. As Plato, I was ready to offer an inspirational quotation, but instead I veered to the present and explained the difference between a snow crystal and a snowflake. The former is a single contigous ice crystal that forms around a nucleation site and may be of many different shapes – stellar, plate, needle, column, etc. The latter, a snowflake, is an aggregation of crystals that raft together while falling to the ground. Our snowflakes were loose bunches, barely stuck together, which broke apart into crystals upon hitting my jacket.
As we dispersed to morning chores, Paul Arthur (teacher of both Ethics and Environmental Issues ) remarked that a snowflake makes a good analogy for our community, although we both felt that our community already has more cohesion than the flakes we saw in the Quad. Our first nine days have been remarkable. Forty students have transitioned to a new lifestyle with wildly different rhythms and routines than their lives at home and at their sending schools. For instance, the seven girls in Ranch house have been up early (around 6:00am) every morning for farm chores, even in sub-zero temperatures, and even when the wood stove has died down overnight and the cabin is on the chilly side. At breakfast today Dilyara explained that milking has strengthened hand muscles she did not know that she had!
On Thursday morning we had a school meeting to define “Intellectual Spirit”, which is a pillar of the academic program. Discussion did not wane for nearly an hour as students and faculty shared what most inspires learning and how to avoid the decline of intellectual spirit. Students prized small class size, active discussion, peer leadership, enthusiasm from their teachers, understanding the “why” behind content, an integrated curriculum, continuing discussion outside of class, working together to understand challenging topics, and applying their learning, among many other ideas. Jack encouraged us all to speak, explaining that “[even if you are thinking what someone else is, generally, you should still speak up. Because each one of us is different, each one of us will offer a slightly different perspective or viewpoint that needs to be heard.]” Madeleine S. reminded us that we should not only value reason, but also other ways of knowing. Although she had not heard of Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, she explained it in her own words. It was a wonderful hour that bodes well for our semester.
On work program students have already been active throughout the Chewonki community. Each afternoon, groups of 8-10 have split several cords of wood that MCS 39 and 40 will use to heat their cabins; other groups have installed insulation and a plywood floor in our new cabin (Gordy Hall); girls from Binnacle have begun sewing new curtains for their cabin with Carol; two students each day have baked bread, processed garlic from our farm, and prepared dinner with Bill in the kitchen; four more helped clean cages of the groundhog, barred owl, and other animals that teach in the Traveling Natural History Programs.
This weekend students will have their first significant blocks of personal time to rest, explore Chewonki Neck, and work ahead on homework. But first, in our Saturday morning Sense of Place series we will break into four groups to explore our local watershed, Montsweag Brook, following the inspiration of Bill Roorbach’s Temple Stream (our pre-semester reading). Together we hope to sketch a profile of the watershed, from headwaters to estuary, which is where our campus sits. Dish crew #1 is planning a Valentine’s Day theme for that night, when students will prepare dinner and a range of evening activities on campus.
In the coming weeks, as students fully adjust to Maine Coast Semester, they will take over authorship of this Blog. I hope that their voices, posted on a regular basis, give you insight into our living and learning together on Chewonki Neck.
Willard Morgan – Head of School