Soul Adventure #8: Hope


Last week I went to high school for a day at an impressive place called The Renaissance School in Springfield, MA. This public school operating is part of a growing network called Expeditionary Learning Schools, attracts a variety of kids, mostly from low income families and is five years old. For the last three years 100% of the students that did graduate, were accepted to at least one college. The students that have not graduated are not forgotten, and all have made plans to complete their program this summer with the support of the staff.

This small but might institution is led by a charismatic principal named Stephen Mahoney, who I met got to observe as he enthusiastically greeted students as they arrived, announced the school’s activities on the loudspeaker with the zeal of a drive time radio DJ and later gave them an earnest send off, by name, as they boarded the buses to go home. He also presented a powerful speech to the students at an assembly before they were given awards and took over the stage to present a variety of performances including a cheerleading drill, poetry and rap videos. Steve also recognized his team of extraordinary and determined teachers who are constantly improving their methods and are the backbone of the school’s success.

I wasinvited to school  to accompany my dear friend Lise Krieger who has taught at Renaissance for 4 years after having a long career in more traditional schools.  She invited me to accompany her and a group of students for one day of a special intensive at Blue Star Equiculture, a magical place in Palmer, MA, where another group of dedicated and hardworking people practice their calling: rescuing draft horses and growing organic food.  The students learned how to clean stalls, groom horses and drive a team of horses. I did hear a few complaints about the work through the day but was really impressed how much the students had grown to love the horses and the people at Blue Star who nurse them back to health and happiness.

When I ask teens or adults the question “Do you know anyone who loves their work?”  they most often say no. I am delighted that the students at Renaissance will always be able to say yes if the hold on to the memories they had in high school so they will have models of people who have more than just a job.  If your answer is no, I encourage you to seek your own role models. They are everywhere and will give you hope.

Laurel Donnellan

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