What We’ve Been Up To

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It’s been about two months since we’ve updated our blog, and the reason is because we’ve been so busy! We’re going to try to do better to keep you informed (hopefully, we’ll be updating at least every other week from here on out), but in the meantime, we thought we’d give you a quick update on what we’ve been up to.

Building Thoreau’s Cabin

The frame of Thoreau’s cabin (minus the roof)

The biggest thing we’ve been up to is building a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin. Throughout September, our students participated in a morning seminar where we read and discussed Thoreau’s classic, Walden. But for two days a week, instead of reading and discussing Walden, our students traveled down to Pawlet, Vermont, to build a replica of the cabin Thoreau lived in while communing with nature in the woods of Concord, Massachusetts.

One of our parents, Jim Becker, conceived of the project, and he served as our foreman, teaching the students how to read blueprints, how to use tools, and how to construct a building from scratch.

We’ve had roughly 20 days so far at the worksite, and the cabin isn’t finished yet. We think we might have about three more full days of work before the cabin is completely enclosed and protected against the winter. Once that’s done, we’ll take a break until the Spring, after which, we’ll get to work improving the interior: building a desk, some beds, and finishing the floor.

It’s been an amazing project so far, and you can see all the pictures on our Facebook page.

The Presidential Election

In October, after finishing Walden, our morning seminars transitioned to studying and following the presidential election. Our students watched and discussed each of the three debates (plus the vice-presidential debate), learned about all the departments of the Executive branch, examined the party platforms, and developed a platform of their own. The last task involved conducting a survey of all the issues being discussed in the national conversation (the economy, energy, education, the environment, social issues such as gun control and gay marriage, healthcare reform, and foreign policy, including issues relating to Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and more).

Public Speaking Workshop

Every afternoon throughout the month of September, students participated in a public-speaking workshop, where they followed a curriculum laid out by Toastmaster’s International. Each speech in the curriculum helps the speaker develop a specific skill. For example, the second speech focuses on presenting an organized speech, while the third speech focuses on getting to the point, and the sixth speech focuses on developing your vocal variety (i.e., how not to be a monotone speaker). The final product for the workshop was a 10-minute speech given in front of the all the parents, students, and staff members of LiHigh School.

It was absolutely amazing to watch young men and women go from being quiet, shy, and disorganized to standing in front of a crowd of semi-strangers and delivering a well-polished, well-delivered, and insightful speech. As their advisor, I couldn’t have been prouder of them.

Writing Skills Workshop

After developing their public speaking skills, we transitioned the workshop into a short workshop on writing skills. While the students have to write papers for a variety of the topics we cover, this workshop helped them develop an understanding of how to develop a thesis statement, construct organized paragraphs, research topics, and include citations.

Math Skills Workshop

Our math skills workshop met twice a week, with a professor from Green Mountain College coming in to help the students develop their practical math skills. Unfortunately, this workshop wasn’t as successful as we hoped. The goal was for the students to work one-on-one with the professor to get the math skills they’ll need to successfully complete aspects of their independent projects. But there seemed to be a disconnect between what we wanted for the kids and what they were getting, so we’ve rebooted and are working on developing a workshop that is more aligned with the uniqueness of the LiHigh School philosophy of personalized education.

History of Space Exploration

Landing the Mars Rover

With the unit on the Presidential Election completed, we’ve decided to use the Mars Rover as the current event that dictated the design of our next seminar. So last week, we watched and discussed President Kennedy’s speech from 1962 when he laid out the argument for going to the moon (“We will go the moon by the end of this decade not because it is easy, but because it is hard…”). Yesterday, we started watching From the Earth to the Moon, a 13-part miniseries (of which we’ll only watch a few) made by HBO and Tom Hanks about the Apollo missions. As we continue the unit, we’ll explore the history of NASA and study some of the the post-moon missions (the space shuttle, the Mars rover missions, etc.), look at how interstellar communications work, and more. This will occupy our morning seminars on Monday.

Science Skills Workshop

As part of the space exploration unit, we are also starting a hands-on science project. We’re collaborating with one of the teachers from our sister program to develop a hands-on project that will challenge the students to design, build, and test some kind of mechanical device. After a long discussion with the students yesterday afternoon, we’ve decided to focus our attention on space weather. Our first task, which will be accomplished during our morning seminars on Thursdays, will be to study the concept of space weather to understand what it is and how it works. Then, on Monday afternoons, students will work to develop some kind of mechanical device to actually measure the changes in space weather. We’re all excited to see what they come up and we can’t wait to get to work on the device.

Drawing Skills Workshop

Right-brain drawing sometimes has you draw things upside down so your brain will focus on what it sees instead of on what the subject “is”.

Starting tomorrow morning, we’ll be giving our students a 75-minute long drawing classThis is something the students requested a couple of weeks ago, and since one of the teachers from our sister program has a background in the fine arts, it was simple enough for us to make it happen. The students will be focusing on “drawing from the right side of the brain,” which means giving up the analytical aspect of seeing and “developing the perceptual skills necessary to see things as they really are – and so be able to render them accurately in a pencil drawing” (i.e., instead of seeing “a nose on a face,” you see the lines and their relationship in perspective).

The LTI (Learning Through Interest/Internships)

As you may know, the most important part of our program doesn’t take place here at the school. Instead, two days a week, the students participate in an internship or an interest-based project where they work with an outside mentor in the field that interests them the most. At the beginning of the year, the LTI process is all about making the connection with the mentor, but as we move towards the winter break, more and more of our students are actually starting to venture out of the school and start their internships/projects. Here’s a quick update on where some of them are at:

  • One student is about three weeks into her internship at Cerridwen Farm at Green Mountain College
  • Another will be starting his internship at the airport in Argyle, NY, later this week
  • One of our students has completed a shadow day at a recording studio in Middletown Springs, and should be starting his internship after Thanksgiving
  • Another will be starting his internship with a local electrician in early December (and in the meantime, he’s hoping to do a shadow day with a local forester and possibly another with a different electrician)
  • A fifth student has completed two successful interviews with computer programmers, and is now trying to set up his internship with a programmer located in the Boston area
  • One of our students has chosen to do an interest-based project (rather than a full internship) that looks at the physiology of a dancer’s body, and she is well one her way to completing that project
  • Another has conducted one informational interview with an art therapist, but since the connection wasn’t strong enough for her to continue towards a shadow day, she’s now trying to contact another art therapist to see if the connection is better for her

Stay Tuned!

We hope you enjoy that snapshot of what we’ve been up to here at LiHigh School. What it leaves out, of course, are the individual projects that each student is working on. For example, one of our students is participating in a college class at Green Mountain College, where he’s developing his entrepreneurial skills. Another is taking a college class on Music and Nature. And two more students asked me to lead them in a creative writing workshop, where they’re learning about poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, with a goal of reading their best pieces in a public exhibition. Another of our students is only five or six lessons away from passing ground school on his way to getting his pilot’s license. There’s great stuff happening here. So stay tuned to see what’s we’ll be up to next!

Author: Kyle Callahan

Hi, I'm Kyle. I'm an advisor at LiHigh School. I've been involved in progressive education since I was in high school. I was an original member (and student representative) of the Progressive Program at Green Mountain College, and for my Master's degree, I attended Goddard College, which started the trend toward progressive education in the 1960s. Along with teaching at LiHigh School, I teach courses in creative writing and communications at Green Mountain College. I live with my wife and daughter in Poultney.

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