Each Kindergarten student is taking a turn sharing a word that sums up their inward feeling. We are seated on meditation pillows on the floor of the Reflective Classroom. Some students have difficulty choosing just one word, “Happy, calm, and silly… well, just happy!” Another shares decisively without hesitation, “Sad.” My heart sinks a little. As we make our way around the circle, one child puts her hands on her heart, looks to the sky, and gently proclaims, “Wind.” Remarkable.

As I make my way through each classroom setting, I am sometimes invited to participate in a lesson, but for the most part, my role is to observe without engagement. I silently sit or move about the room as if hidden. The students indulge this intrusion and often seem happy to see me arrive. After a few moments, however, the students and teachers quickly settle back into the work at hand.

A few months ago, a particularly skilled host in the first grade brought me his chair and a book about sea life. He explained, “I actually like to stand at my desk. You will really enjoy this book.”

This past Friday morning, I watched as the High School Geometry class participated in an applied math lesson on indirect measure. Students fanned out across the east side of the campus to calculate the height of objects too high to measure by hand. Sitting back to enjoy the students’ soft laughter and active engagement was the perfect way to begin the day.

Watching second graders using manipulatives and working in pairs to count by 2s, 5s, and 10s, I witness firsthand the complex integration of academic learning and social development — the negotiation of taking turns, practicing listening, not being included, and not including.

To witness the vibrant learning of both student and teacher against the backdrop of beauty and serenity on our campus never seems ordinary to me.

I want him to be good at academics, otherwise present society will see that he’s destroyed. Right? So, please give me that first. Right? Then, I say to you, make him more… You follow? something much more than becoming a BA, PhD, and all that nonsense. He must have all that nonsense, but make him something much more. Can you? That’s all my question. Help him to become a holistic human being.”

— Krishnamurti
“First Dialogue with Teachers at Rishi Valley”
1985

Jay Jayanetti joined Oak Grove School in 3rd grade back in 1988 and graduated in 1998. He went on to obtain his B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior (NPB) with a minor in Studio Art from University of California, Davis. Jay subsequently obtained his Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS) and Specialty Certificate in Prosthodontics from UC San Francisco. Heading east, he then obtained a Specialty Certificate in Maxillofacial Prosthetics from University of Alabama, Birmingham. (Maxillofacial prosthodontists treat patients who have acquired defects in the head and neck region usually due to cancer, surgery, trauma, and/or birth defects.)

Jay spent five years working as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Prosthodontics, first at UCSF School of Dentistry and the University of the Pacific School of Dentistry before joining Louisiana State University in the same capacity. At LSU School of Dentistry, Jay was awarded the “Golden Apple” Excellence in Teaching Award in 2014.

Last year Jay was thrilled to return to California. He is currently the UCLA Associate Program Director of Maxillofacial Prosthetics and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Division of Advanced Prosthodontics.

Asked if or how his Oak Grove education remains important to him, Jay responded:

I don’t subscribe to supernatural powers. Instead, I am a naturalist in my thinking. Therefore I know that I am a product of my genetic material and my upbringing, the latter of which was to a great degree influenced by the faculty and staff and friends that are the fabric of the Oak Grove School community. To that end I know that I am fond of my time in Ojai and at OGS. I love reminiscing about these past chapters in my life, and when I’m in Ojai, I’m drawn to the campus for a quiet stroll through the wood chip paths. I usually take a moment to sit on a boulder under an oak tree, and without trying I hear the voices of those that shared with me a piece of themselves: Karen, Vicky, Darcy, Theresa, Don, Jake, Issa, Karen, Jeff, Jeff O., Liz, Posy, Gabe, Larry, Laura, Irmgard, Christy, Meredy…”

Seven and a half years ago, I started my first day of teaching at Oak Grove School. I had spent the summer lesson planning, figuring out how to adjust from teaching 40 students a class to teaching 12 to 16. As 8:00am approached, I put on my game face, ready to show the kids that I was a force that should not be trifled with.

As the students filed in, I said in my most stentorian voice, “My name is Mister umm Will, and I am going to start with my expectations for the class, which are EXTENSIVE. I began rattling off my policies on tardiness, food in the classroom, punctuality, ad nauseam. Had I looked up from my notes, I might have noticed a bemused expression on the students’ faces. However, my lecture was interrupted by a student who burst through the door with a haggard expression on his face. He announced, “I am so sorry. I ran over a squirrel on my way to school and I had to stop and think about that for a while.”

This stopped me in my tracks. I paused to consider how to proceed. My professional instincts and training urged me to continue with my lecture, knowing that one can only fit so much curriculum into my 181 days of instruction. However, another part of my brain started prodding me in another direction. This inquiring, curious part of my brain had atrophied in recent years, and it begged for some exercise. So I turned to the student. A small smile started to crack the facade of my game face and I asked: “So after you hit that squirrel, what did you think about?” So, we spent the first day of US history class engaged in a free-ranging discussion on death, random chance, moral agency, and ethics. 

Krishnamurti writes: Education in our schools is not only the acquisition of knowledge, but what is far more important, the awakening of intelligence, which will then utilize knowledge. It is never the other way around. 

Something awakened in me that day; I suppose I could call it intelligence, and it profoundly changed the way I approach teaching and my relationship with my students. The culture of this school has a way of changing those who come into its orbit. However, we sometimes forget that this change is not limited to students. While our focus remains on the students, the magical thing about this place is its ability to awaken intelligence and to promote a culture of self-inquiry in the community of teachers, parents, alumni, and community members.

So I wish to challenge you with this question: How has this school, this wonderful institution of learning, led you to consider and question your own ways of thinking? 

 

-Will Hornblower, High School History Teacher

Adapted from a speech written for the Tea Fundraiser

 

It is the end of the semester and a time when our students share what they have been working on in class. In core academic subjects, learning might be expressed through presentations, reports, fairs, project engagements, and tests. In the arts, learning is shared through performances and exhibitions.

At Oak Grove, performing, presenting, or displaying art are simply aspects of the process of learning, not the end purpose. Beginning in preschool, art and music are fundamental aspects of every school day. The art curriculum is focused on functional knowledge, engagement, and personal creative expression. Understanding music is focused on genres like euro-classical, jazz, contemporary, rock, funk, etcetera, while practicing tempo, rhythm, beat, pitch, movement, and the principles of composition. Students explore the many fields of art including crafts, ceramics, fine art, and photography.

Students don’t take required prerequisites or compete to participate in music and art. Regardless of skill or experience, students are stretched beyond their natural inclination and given the opportunity to participate in all art forms. This gives students the chance to more fully express themselves and become more integrated.

Self-understanding is at the core of the school’s philosophy. Art and music are a fundamental way to deepen self-reflection and offer new forms of creative expression. Communicating through the paintbrush, song lyric, or somatically can add to one’s agency.

When it is time to share what has been learned in the arts, we watch in awe. Dancers, who have never taken a single dance class before this past September, amaze us with their vulnerability and graceful synchronistic choreography. Artists, using many media forms, display Hatch/Hanson/Rosulek-inspired delicate ceramics, abstracted landscape photography, and color scale paintings. Woodworkers, having just learned how to use power and hand tools, showcase live-edge wooden tables, sculpture, skate ramp, and park benches. Journalists, some with English as a second language, fill an eight-page newspaper with deeply personal reflections and relevant investigative reporting. Every student has the opportunity to be a musician, an athlete, an artist, a scholar, while not being limited by any or all of these narrow concepts of identity.

— Jodi Grass, Head of School

“To me, the true artist is one who lives completely, harmoniously, who does not divide his art from living, whose very life is that expression, whether it be a picture, music, or his behavior; who has not divorced his expression on a canvas or in music or in stone from his daily conduct, daily living. That demands the highest intelligence, highest harmony. To me the true artist is the man who has that harmony. He may express it on canvas, or he may talk, or he may paint; or he may not express it at all, he may feel it. But all this demands that exquisite poise, that intensity of awareness, and therefore his expression is not divorced from the daily continuity of living.”

— J. Krishnamurti

The nature of the conversation was argumentative, but there was a sense of affection between us. The vibrant voice on the other end of the phone was persistently posing questions, “What is the self?” “How are the students going to ask these questions?” “What is the point of understanding a self that doesn’t, in fact, exist?”

This particular conversation went on for 90 minutes or so. I held the phone to my ear as I paced around the lobby of the Georgia World Congress Center during the National Association of Independent Schools conference in Atlanta. It was March of 2018. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the last conversation I had with Steve Worden, long-time donor and friend to Oak Grove School, friend to me.

In May of 2018, we received a certified letter from Steve’s lawyer, notifying us of his death.

I first spoke with Steve in 2011. He called to inquire about purchasing books through our publishing company. For the next several years, we spoke regularly (every five weeks or so). Most of our conversations would go on for more than an hour, sometimes more than two hours. Our conversations were heated and intense. He received the KFA and OGS printed publications and would share many criticisms and questions about what he read. Steve was an incredibly intelligent man and had deep concerns about humanity. Krishnamurti and David Bohm each had a profound impact on Steve’s understanding of things, and he wanted to make sure the school was integrating these teachings within the program.

Steve had no digital footprint, and we never met in person. Early on in our conversations, he began referring to me as “sir.” He explained that this would ensure a sense of depersonalization to our communications. In cooperation, I too referred to Steve as “sir” – when I could remember.

We would talk, and often disagree, about something he read or a Krishnamurti talk he heard. Most notably, Steve expressed concern that Oak Grove was not providing enough time or space for students, parents, and staff to ask the deepest questions. He expressed frustration about that in nearly every phone call.  

Although he worked to depersonalize our connection, the humanness came through. Often our phone conversations would begin or end with Steve saying something like, “Did your husband stay safe during that recent fire?” or “Take care of your daughters,” or “Be careful when you drive up north.”

When Steve died, he bequeathed Oak Grove the sum total of his estate, which included his ashes. To honor Steve, we built the Reflective Classroom in his memory. This classroom will serve all members of the community as a place for reflective practices, including dialogue, meditation, journal writing, mindfulness, and silence.

This past week, the Oak Grove School Board held a modest dedication of the completed classroom. Afterward, each class, one at a time, had an opportunity to visit. As they waited to enter, Jacqueline Valle shared how students and adults will enter the classroom — in silence, shoeless, and without electronics, food, or drinks. Once inside, I had the opportunity to sit with the students and explain the intention of the space, answer their questions, and share my gratitude for Steve and the other people who made the space possible. 

Students from preschool through 12th grade expressed a feeling of peacefulness and calmness as they sat in the room. Some asked if they could visit when they feel sad or overwhelmed. One high school student even asked if he could do his homework in the classroom. There were also questions about why we chose that location or how the windows were installed. There was an overwhelming shared feeling of happiness and gratitude. 

Thank you, Sir. 

— Jodi Grass, Head of School

The Journalism class produced an in-depth audio report on China-US trade relations.

Listen here:

In coordination with the Carolyn Glasoe Bailey Foundation, Oak Grove is pleased to welcome its first Artist in residence, Cole James. Oak Grove will host the artist on campus with a guest apartment, as well as studio space in the loft of the Art Building. This partnership offers a unique opportunity for students and faculty to engage with the artist.

Staff and students are encouraged to engage during Cole’s stay from November 2019 through February 2020. Learn more about the artist’s work and upcoming show.

To get a feeling of James’ work . . .

“There are truths to being African American, I will never know the language of my ancestors or the traditions of their ancestors. This began my investigation into the unknown or rather an embrace of the unknowable and the ability to transcend the unknown into the imagined and the experiential. My intention is to embark on an imagined story of creation with a system of reactions centered on the sharing of hopefulness in experience as it coincides with memory.

— Cole James

I was lying in the shade on the Main House lawn looking up at the sky. The weather was warm, not hot. I could see the gentle breeze move through the trees. Nearby, other staff and faculty members were spread out around the lawn, gazebo, and pathways. Some were seated on rocks, others lay on benches, or sat upright facing the mountains. Together, but alone, we were engaged in “radical downtime,” something many of our teachers practice with our students throughout the school day.

This was during our weekly faculty meeting, and the amount of time was far too short. Radical downtime is not mindfulness or meditation. The idea is to be without external stimuli – books, electronics, paper, instrument, conversation – to be with oneself without a purpose. Daydreaming, thinking, not thinking, allowing the mind to wander, closing the eyes, napping is fine if that is what is needed.

I remember reading once that for a person who gets the appropriate amount of sleep, it should take 15-20 minutes to naturally fall asleep after closing one’s eyes. The mind will cycle through the day’s interactions, projects, forgotten to-dos, but once the mind slows down, sleep will prevail. I wonder how many people allow that amount of time to drift off. My own habit is to read until I realize I am dreaming with my eyes closed and the book has fallen out of my hand. That’s when I turn off the lights and fall asleep within seconds.

Research around radical downtime suggests that people who practice this activity have improved memory, increased creativity, decreased stress, and experience fewer sleep disturbances. When we stop and do “nothing,” especially in this hyper-technological world full of distractions, we increase the possibility of becoming more aware of our emotions, noticing body sensations and what they may mean to us. For children, having time to process what is happening inside themselves and learning how to be content with themselves without external provocation is an essential aspect of our purpose as a school.

It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree – not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself – and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fisherman’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed.”

— J. Krishnamurti, “Think on These Things”

The spaciousness to ask both practical and perennial questions is an essential part of the Oak Grove educational program. Through academic inquiry (Socratic, scientific, normative, conceptual, etc.), dialogue, Council, as well as reflective practices, students and teachers explore questions about the world outside and within. The student newspaper, The Oak Grove Times, is a place students may give form to such inquiry — a public forum, the published word. Students choose an area of focus and are supported to develop questions, a clear direction, and to establish a detailed research plan (focus groups, data, etc.). The adults engaged in this process serve as mentors, sounding boards, and advisors. Often the relationship among the subject of an article, the student, and the advisors becomes a transformational opportunity to look at their conditioning, biases, and assumptions.

In the fall of 2017, Sanaya Danhanukar, then a junior at Oak Grove, authored an article titled “Who is God?” In it, she writes:

What created this galaxy that we exist in? We have all heard about the Big Bang Theory, but what caused the Big Bang? This remains a mystery to us all. What would happen if one fell into a black hole? There are some things that even science cannot give us explanations for, without leaving behind questionable doubt. The argument is that this mystery makes it clear that there is a God who is responsible for the creation of life and our world, as we see it today. In times of difficulty and despair, God has answered prayers. While atheists may argue that there is nothing to prove the existence of God, a counter-argument made by believers is that while there may not be concrete evidence to prove the existence of God, there is also no evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist. These arguments are a valid justification for why these people hold the belief that they do.”

In December of 2018, Cassius Calzini, an Oak Grove student for the past nine years, published a piece about the school’s grounds and questioned the need for recent changes to the campus:

Meditative walks in the oak grove and playing in the lost meadow are experiences that have enhanced my time at Oak Grove School. Now, being a ninth grader, I am looking at my school, and I’m noticing a change: I am feeling a great pressure from society for schools to prepare their students for the outside world in a way that doesn’t allow individuality and personal growth. At Oak Grove School we focus on the individual, not just academically, but as a whole. In return, people graduate from our school as truly amazing human beings, carrying on the impact of what Oak Grove has taught them throughout their lives. I worry that the pressure to conform to society could cause us to lose the unique opportunities provided by our school that allow children to explore themselves, and the freedom to inquire and ask questions.”

In the most recent edition, May 2019, sophomore Nayeli Tirado questioned our biases around immigration, while senior Lewis Lu shared his own cultural conditioning bias as a Chinese citizen against seeing Tibet as a sovereign nation, and student Earl Marvin explored the depths of ethnocentrism with his poem titled “Fascism.”

To delve deeply into a question can confront our beliefs and leave us feeling unsettled under any circumstance, but to then publish that process requires a significant level of vulnerability. This is the power of the published word.

 

View all of the archived newspapers here.

In 1982, the United Nations declared the third Tuesday in September as International Peace Day. Since 2001, it has been celebrated on the 21st of the month. This year’s Universal Declaration is “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.”

In September we celebrated Peace Day on campus with our students. Given the current palpable concern for our environment, Oak Grove expanded the UN’s declaration to include the life and security of the natural world. Together we sang songs and participated in various activities in our Lizard Groups. For those who don’t know, Lizard Groups are lateral groupings of students from kindergarten through 12th grade and staff.

One particularly poignant activity was the creation of Climate Crisis Mind Maps. In group discussions, students and adults explored three questions: What are our concerns about the environment? What needs to be understood about how to care for our environment? What is my wish for the planet? A former parent, Nusa Maal-King, mapped the conversations on large banner paper, which are now hanging in Main House.

Nayeli Tirado, Class of 2021, sat in a rocking chair on the Pavilion deck and read the book Three Questions to the entire school. The book’s message was echoed in many forms throughout the day:

There is nowhere else to be but here.
There is no one else to be but me.
The most important thing is what is right in front of me.