These days, when everyone is deciding about next year, our older students have been on my mind. The elementary years at the Seed are optional in many respects, with a variety of free alternatives available once children reach kindergarten age. Over the years I’ve learned not to take family decisions personally, trusting that the same discernment that brought students to the Seed is also a part of the decision to leave. Many children have been Seeds since their young toddler days and it’s time to start directing tuition funds toward college savings. Some families drive long distances to the Seed and decide to transition to a more local option. There are many reasons, all of them valid. This leads me back to the question: What is the value of the Seed experience for school age students? It’s a question I’ve spent most of my Awakening Seed career answering.
Several years ago we discussed this topic at a board meeting. It was at a time when our preschool needs were growing and I asked if perhaps we were at a point when the Seed should strictly become a preschool. After discussing this in depth, we unanimously decided that indeed the contribution of the older students was too valuable to the community to discontinue. I breathed a sigh of relief and our elementary program remains a significant part of the Seed. The board discussion focused on the impact of big kids at the Seed and not as much how the experience affected the children themselves. So the question remains about the value of being an elementary Seed student.
There are many children, I believe, who are best served as long as possible in an environment that provides greater attention to detail. They may be children who are more sensitive or need additional time to grow into themselves. Our smaller elementary classes give children extra direct contact with their teachers and other staff members who know their names and stories. When an entire staff supports a child in all aspects of his or her day, the possibilities for positive self-growth are amplified.
Being an older student at the Seed is a built-in training program for community service and social activism. Whether it’s visiting elders in a nursing home, loading up canned goods for a food drive, or directing families to paint shirts on tie dye day, the idea of service is the norm. Studies promoting random acts of kindness plant lifelong seeds of empathy that serve children for the remainder of their lives. Patience and advocacy for children who are still in the process of understanding how to navigate the social world have a lasting influence. Coaching on how to thoughtfully deliver constructive criticism to a peer results in a circle of young human beings who know how to be truthful in ways that are both generous and helpful.
Big kids at the Seed have time and space to grow their confidence. When they have frequent contact with their younger buddies for reading, work on common projects, and celebrations, they are reminded of the value of their place in the world. Given opportunities to make decisions and take responsibility, they grow into adults who care about creating a healthier planet. These intangibles aren’t readily measured or described by standardized data. They are qualities that will someday show up in a growing Seed’s life, and those who have been been responsible for nurturing that young person will pause reflectively and say, “That was because of the Seed.” I know this because I hear it all the time from those who spent a chapter of their lives at Awakening Seed.