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

 

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 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.

 

Our class of 2019 consists of twelve students. The 11 who applied to four-year colleges and universities have collectively been accepted into 32 schools. This is an average of four acceptances per student and this average is not unusual for Oak Grove seniors. The schools (listed below) include major public universities and colleges, independent and public liberal arts colleges, and specialized art schools. While this is impressive, and we joyfully celebrate this accomplishment with our students, it is also important to know that it is not our objective to have all of our graduates go directly from high school to a four-year college.

Oak Grove High School has a challenging college preparatory scope and sequence curriculum not because we think all students should go directly from high school to a four-year university, but because we want every student to have the choice of going directly to a university if that is what is right for them. More importantly, we want our students to be well educated with a solid and well rounded academic foundation for whatever they choose to do in life.

Class of 2019 College acceptances:
Allegheny, Bard College, Bryn Mawr, Cal Lutheran, Cal Poly SLO, CSUCI, CSU Long Beach, CSU Sacramento, CSU Sonoma, Centre College, Eckerd College, Fordham, George Washington, Goucher, Ohio State, Pace University, Purdue, Quest University, Reed, Southwestern, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Los Angeles, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UIUC, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Willamette University.

Introduction by Jodi Grass, Head of School and Russ Bowen, Director of the Secondary Program

Music performance by the 2019 graduating class

Jodi Grass, Head of School Speech

Bria Schraeder

Yiyang “Lewis” Lu

Eleanor Clift

Ziyi “Valentina” Li

Emma Hughart

Alex Richardson

Catherine Cornwell

Zhiqi “Birkhoff” Cheng

Sarame Sahgal

Haemin Ro

Rio Petersen

Sanaya Dahanukar

Brittany Borowitz, Senior Advisor & Conferment of Diplomas

From the Head of School

The culmination of the school year is fast approaching which signals transition to many things—the completion of a grade, the advancement from one program to the next, the excitement of an Ojai summer and time with friends and family. For our seniors, this transition is particularly poignant as in this culture, completion of high school marks the symbolic end of childhood.

Our class of 2019 consists of twelve students. The 11 who applied to four-year colleges and universities have collectively been accepted into 32 schools. This is an average of four acceptances per student and this average is not unusual for Oak Grove seniors. The schools (listed below) include major public universities and colleges, independent and public liberal arts colleges, and specialized art schools. While this is impressive, and we joyfully celebrate this accomplishment with our students, it is also important to know that it is not our objective to have all of our graduates go directly from high school to a four-year college.

As shared here before, some of our students choose to pursue a personal passion directly after Oak Grove. Sophia Grunder (2013) has made her lifelong dream of being an artisan chocolatier a reality. Today, alongside her mentor, Jennifer Smith, Sophia owns and operates the exquisite Ex Voto Chocolates in Ventura. Some Oak Grove graduates choose to defer their college acceptances and take a gap year, like Emilie Del Signore (2017), who spent a gap year traveling through the American Southwest and western Europe and a trek across Zavkhan, Mongolia, before beginning her studies at Syracuse University in the fall of 2018. We also have several students who chose to attend one of California’s excellent local Community Colleges to complete their general education requirements while staying closer to home, saving money, and perhaps pursuing other passions. Dane Wilson (2014) who spent several years with the US Sailing Olympic Development Program before heading to San Diego State University.

Oak Grove High School has a challenging college preparatory scope and sequence curriculum not because we think all students should go directly from high school to a four-year university, but because we want every student to have the choice of going directly to a university if that is what is right for them. More importantly, we want our students to be well educated with a solid and well rounded academic foundation for whatever they choose to do in life.

Class of 2019 College acceptances:
Allegheny, Bard College, Bryn Mawr, Cal Lutheran, Cal Poly SLO, CSUCI, CSU Long Beach, CSU Sacramento, CSU Sonoma, Centre College, Eckerd College, Fordham, George Washington, Goucher, Ohio State, Pace University, Purdue, Quest University, Reed, Southwestern, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Los Angeles, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UIUC, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin, Willamette University.

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.