On Thursday, May 28, 2020, the Ojai Chautauqua formed a panel to discuss this question in front of a live streaming audience.

In the words of the Agora Foundation: These are unprecedented times and it’s unclear whether the worst is behind us. A vast majority of schools, at every educational level, have ceased on-site programs for the remainder of the school year. Many schools are also hesitant to set any definite plans for fall 2020, with so much still uncertain. In the meantime, most public and private institutions have moved to online learning and alternative approaches, with varying levels of success.

What is the best thinking in online learning, and where are schools finding success? How are institutions looking at structural change in order to stay viable and effective? How are leaders thinking about the future intersection of K-12 and higher education? How will fields that have in-person practicum requirements fulfill their training? What are schools that rely on international students planning to do next school year? Will job training reorient to high-demand fields on a national scale?

Panelists:

Jodi Grass – Head of Oak Grove School
Erika Beck – President of CSU Channel Islands
Paul Lazenby – Director of Mother of Divine Grace School
Tiffany Morse – Superintendent of Ojai Unified School District
Moderator: Tom Krause, Board President of the Agora Foundation

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

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.

 

Both our 1st-4th grade and 5th-8th grade spring concerts have been a blast in the past two weeks. On Friday, May 17, we will host our High School Spring Showcase. The philosophy guiding our music program is consistent with our general approach to teaching.

The elementary through 8th grade program is required and based on Orff Schulwerk. Orff Schulwerk is an approach to music education established in the 1960s by German composer Carl Orff and his colleague, Gunild. The program employs elemental techniques such as imitation, echo, and ostinato. The objective is to build musicianship in every learner through the integration of music, movement, speech, and drama.

Effort and skill-building are what we emphasize here. Our music program is both experiential and inclusive: everyone participates. All students, regardless of age, interest, or ability have the opportunity to explore music and to perform.  

Early elementary students learn songs through movement, dance, and voice. As they develop skills with notation, ear training, and fine motor movement, they begin to incorporate more sophisticated instruments into their work. Third graders learn to use recorders and 4th grade ukuleles.         

By 5th grade, students choose a specific chromatic instrument like piano or guitar. By 7th grade, students are supported in specializing in an instrument, should they choose to do that, and the curriculum is focused more on forming musical bands. Singing is a fundamental practice for students in all grades. Music provides us with the opportunity to discover our feelings, to explore cooperative process, and to develop neural pathways that connect both hemispheres of the brain.  

In High School, music is no longer mandatory but continues to be an option for students in electives. HS students have four electives each year, and this year can choose from music, ceramics, woodshop, journalism, French, digital design, studio art, film studies, film making, theater, and dance.

At Oak Grove, students don’t audition or take required prerequisites to participate in band, art, and sports. Regardless of skill or experience, students are stretched beyond their natural inclination and given the opportunity to participate in all art forms as well as sports. Our teachers are highly skilled in differentiation and able to challenge some forward while simultaneously providing additional scaffolding to others.

At the upcoming HS Showcase, you will witness musicians, many playing a particular instrument for the first time this year, perform complicated songs like Free Falling, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Unchained Melody, as well as Mack the Knife; along with some uncomplicated melodic songs like Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby, Stand By Me, and Don’t Let Me Down.

The High School Spring Showcase will also include a dance performance and a student art exhibit including woodworking, ceramics, photography, and fine art. The artists, using many media, will showcase Hatch/Hanson/Rosulek-inspired delicate ceramics, abstracted landscape photography, and large-scale paintings. Woodworkers, having just learned how to use power and hand tools, will display wooden tables, spoons, and a lamp; journalists, some with English as a second language, have filled an eight-page newspaper with deeply personal reflections and relevant investigative reporting.

Music begins at Oak Grove in the Early Childhood Program with weekly singalongs and daily integration of informal singing and music-making. Our preschool and kindergarten students have opportunities to bring their singing to community events like Open House, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and Earth Day celebrations.

At Oak Grove, 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. At Oak Grove, music practice along with the arts are crucial processes in the development of the “whole” child.

Camping Trips

Our spring trips have officially begun! Last week, the freshman and sophomore classes backpacked the Gene Marshall trail, beginning at Reyes Creek Campground in Lockwood Valley and ending at Rose Valley. They arrived safely home on Friday to warm showers and reports of ice cream and large amounts of pasta.

Our juniors are currently on day 7 of a 10-day expedition through the southwest—river rafting the Kern River near Sequoia National Forest, trekking through Death Valley, hiking up a portion of the Mt. Whitney Trail and traversing up to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.

This past Thursday night, kindergarten students and their families camped on our athletic field. Together, they enjoyed bonfire stories, a sing-along, and roasted marshmallows in the darkness. This practice of spending the night at “school,” is where our students begin to develop camping skills (pitching a tent, sleeping outside, fire safety) while in a familiar and safe place with their family.

In the next few weeks, our students in 1st through 8th grades will travel progressively further away on increasingly more challenging trips. Immersive outdoor trips enhance learning through direct experiences. In early elementary, the camp-out moves away to Carpinteria, first with parents, then the following year, without parents. The students practice being with teachers and peers away from home, but geographically close.

In upper elementary, the focus moves to places further away with more physically challenging activities: group bike rides, longer hikes, and bouldering. Then they are off to our local forest carrying their own packs, swimming in water holes, and out of cell phone range. Our 7th and 8th graders travel by plane to other states to sleep in teepees, to river raft, and to study glacier science. In a couple of weeks, this group will head to the Canyonlands Field Institute in Moab, Utah. While there, they will participate in white water expeditions through ancient canyons and engage in active, meaningful, transformative, hands-on, outdoor curriculum that integrates science, history, literature, and art.

These trips are developmentally appropriate, with each building on the one before. Students practice essential life skills, gain a sense of agency and grit, and also deepen their relationship with the natural world.

For our parents, these trips offer an opportunity to practice trusting other adults to care for our children away from home. As I have shared here before, from the moment of birth our children begin growing away from us. Each moment brings new opportunities for children to gain confidence in their ability to be separate, for parents to trust that the child is capable of separating, and for both to trust that this separation is natural and safe. These trips allow the child and parent an ever-increasing practice in separating. There are things that cannot be learned conceptually—digging a hole in the wilderness to go to the bathroom, overcoming a fear of water or heights, pushing ourselves physically beyond what our mind believes is possible (just one more step), and, perhaps the most difficult of them all, letting a child grow away from us.

Watch video of the speech below. 

Travelling has always been something that I really enjoy. Exploring different places, seeing different people, experiencing different cultures. You can really see how colorful this world is and how amazing our globe is. I have long yearned to visit India. In fact, the Senior India trip was one of the many factors that led me to choose to attend Oak Grove over other schools. So finally here I am, after almost four years at Oak Grove, reflecting on my India trip experience.

So, the India trip was indeed quite different from any other trip I have been on. Instead of simply touring around and visiting attractions, this trip was a very immersive experience. It shows India in a different perspective from regular tourism, a perspective that is based on human connection, the essence of being a person.

I had a great time talking to students at the three schools that we visited and enjoyed making new friends in a completely different and alien territory. However, the hospitality I experienced and witnessed triggered me to think, to reflect on myself, my country, and my own culture.

Despite my personal interest in India, as a student coming from China, India has a different, or I would say a distorted image pre-installed in my brain, and in most other Chinese’s brains as well. The way the Chinese perceive India is full of prejudices and biases. When I told my friends in China about my plan to go to India, they frequently questioned my decision. They think of India as an inferior country, a place they would never want to visit. And this impression has greatly influenced people’s view of Indian people as a whole. But I don’t believe in accepting what others think. This added my desire to go to India. I wanted to see India with my own eyes, to prove that they were wrong. Like Krishnamurti said, we must look most intimately and discover for ourselves; then it is our own, not somebody else’s, not something that we have been told.

A history teacher at Pathshala reminded me of the very origin of this problem with my culture. There was one day at lunch when he joined my table and started a conversation. As our conversation progressed, he brought up a fact that I have almost forgotten. It wasn’t until the 19th century that the Chinese people stopped calling everyone else “barbarians.” That is less than 200 years ago. And I hate to admit (but sadly it is true) that even now, many people in China still see themselves as superior to other ethnicities. And they have many different and negative biases and prejudices towards different racial groups.

I couldn’t stop thinking and imagining how Indian students would be treated if they had a chance to visit a school in China for a week. Because as I said, I am well aware of how prejudiced Chinese people are. This little mind test always turns out with unfavorable results. And I cringe when I compare it to my experience at the schools.

So, on one bus ride out to Bangalore city, I had a chance to talk to Elsie, a faculty member at The Valley School. I asked her, “How do people in India view Chinese people? What kind of attitude do Indians have towards China?” Her answer was not surprising, but did make me feel bad. She said that Indian people have no hostility against the Chinese people. Though there is political conflict, it has no relevance to what the people think.

She was right. China and India have been neighbors forever. The two civilizations have coexisted for thousands of years. But neighbors don’t like each other all the time. Territorial conflicts have been a huge obstacle that has kept China and India from being better friends. Diplomatic relationships involving Pakistan and the US have simply added more flames to the already fiery relation.

But the two countries, India and China, took very different approaches on this matter. In China, isolationism never disappeared. In addition, the modern day Chinese government has put strict controls on the media, both social and journalistic. A highly censored social media and government-controlled news industry have led to a biased public opinion on many things. Chinese media purposely patronizes India and portrays India as an inferior country. India, on the contrary, according to Elsie, has a much more open media. Though there are conflicts on the government level, there is no propaganda against China, nor is the social media patronizing to China as an inferior power. People can really see a different reality through an open media.

This difference made me realize how important an uncensored media source is. A highly controlled and censored media would only cause misapprehension and manipulate people’s minds. With a worldwide trend of isolationists rising to power again, we must be aware of the possibility of the world moving towards closed and censored media. Even in America, there is a trend towards that. Net neutrality is a perfect indication of possible media censoring. And we need to be aware of it, to stand up to it, and to fight against it.

By the end of the trip, I came to the conclusion that things need to change back home in China. I realized that my perspective of my own country has changed, being outside of it. There are too many misconceptions in China. Krishnamurti once said that we are very defensive, and therefore we are aggressive, when we hold on to a particular belief, dogma, or when we worship our particular nationality. We need to be more receptive towards other cultures.

When we were at Pathshala, we had a few discussion sessions with the local students. In one part, they specifically addressed a few questions to me, about agriculture and rice production in China. In our conversation, I brought up the idea of a joint research force on rice production between China and India. Because, imagine the two countries with the world’s largest populations, making up one third of the world population, both having rice as their main dietary consumption, working together to increase the quality and quantity of rice production. It would be a blessing to our world. So when I brought up this Idea, I saw accord and eagerness in their eyes. That’s when I realized, it’s we Chinese that need to make a change, to open up our minds and to be more receptive to new possibilities.

I feel more than ever that it’s our responsibility, it’s our generation’s responsibility, to bring unity to the world, to become global citizens no matter how messed up our world is today. Sometimes it’s inevitable that we have a few setbacks along the way towards world integration. But it doesn’t matter, because the future is in our hands, and I have confidence that together, we can make the world a better place.

From the Head of School

All of the Krishnamurti schools are located on large campuses of great natural beauty, with austere but comfortable classrooms. This is partly because the schools share an emphasis on relationship with and care for the natural world.

Yesterday at the May Gathering, a panel of students presented their experiences attending Oak Grove School, as it relates to its emphasis on a relationship with nature. The students ranged in age from elementary through high school, and included a former student. The panelists were thoughtful and articulate. They spoke eloquently about the importance of keeping Oak Grove’s campus natural and open with just a few rustic buildings. They shared their school experiences exploring the local meadows, ocean, rivers and forest. They spoke about traveling to the Grand Tetons, Zion Park, and India. Their stories were vivid and one could feel the sincerity in their words.

Most profoundly, perhaps, was each student’s ability to articulate our collective responsibility to care for the natural world from which we, as humans, are not separate.

“The death of a tree is beautiful in its ending, unlike man’s. A dead tree in the desert, stripped of its bark, polished by the sun and the wind, all its naked branches open to the heavens, is a wondrous sight. A great redwood, many, many hundreds of years old, is cut down in a few minutes to make fences, seats, and build houses or enrich the soil in the garden. The marvellous giant is gone. Man is pushing deeper and deeper into the forests, destroying them for pasture and houses. The wilds are disappearing. There is a valley, whose surrounding hills are perhaps the oldest on earth, where cheetahs, bears and the deer one once saw have entirely disappeared, for man is everywhere. The beauty of the earth is slowly being destroyed and polluted. Cars and tall buildings are appearing in the most unexpected places. When you lose your relationship with nature and the vast heavens, you lose your relationship with man.”

J. Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti Foundation Trust Bulletin 56, 1989

 

Join Oak Grove School Friday, May 18th, at 7:00pm for its semi-annual High School Showcase.

The event features musical performances by Oak Grove’s high school, as well as student art, paintings, photographs, film, and ceramics. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. Meet at the Art Studio.

Be a part of this celebration, open to Oak Grove families and friends, as well as those interested in the school.

Free and open to the community.

Friday, May 18th, 2018 – 7:00-9:00pm
Oak Grove High School Spring Showcase
220 West Lomita, Ojai – Pavilion and Art Center
Facebook Event

Run for the Hills – 5K RUN

Kick off Earth Week, Sunday, April 15, at Oak Grove School. This is a community event to benefit the OVLC hillside restoration efforts.

  • Half mile run for kids at 9:30am
  • 5K campus trail run at 10:00am

This family-friendly event will include numerous schools from the Ojai Valley. The 5K course will span Oak Grove School property.

After completing the run, stay and enjoy our post-race community activities:

Music • Yoga • Food Trucks • Environmental Speakers • Student Booths • Leisure Games • Chalk4Peace • and more

Hosted by the Green Schools Student Collective: Besant Hill School, Thacher School, Oak Grove School.
Proceeds benefiting local hillside restoration efforts by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.

 

UPDATE: May 20, 2018

In a follow-up from last month’s Run for the Hills fundraiser, the high school students, as part of the Green Schools Student Collective, along with the help of teachers and volunteers, raised over $4,500. The proceeds will benefit the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.

This event and the Seed Propagation Project that was initiated earlier in the year are an ongoing effort by our student community to help restore the surrounding hills following the Thomas fire.