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

Early in the morning on Wednesday, April 8, three weeks after we first moved the entire school to remote learning, we held our first remote (Zoom) student council meetings. As the High School Student Council advisor, I anticipated their agenda to include big topics like prom and spring showcase which, I believed, would incite difficult conversations with disappointing realities. I considered how I might console and encourage the students.  

When I reviewed the agenda, however, I saw something different. Don’t get me wrong, prom was a discussion item, yet it was framed as “ideas for virtual prom.” Amazingly, our students had already moved to problem-solving. What really caught my heart, however, were items like “ways to support the school” and “ways to support the community.” 

I found out later that similar discussions happened at the Elementary and Middle School Student Council meetings as well. Each group of students initiated plans to help those less fortunate and to support their schoolmates with individual handwritten notes and small gifts that would be sent home. Elementary Student Council members initiated collecting food for those less fortunate. The Middle School Student Council decided to look into the needs of local animals during this crisis. 

As early as April 10, each council had plans for reaching out to every student in the program they represent, and all three student councils were working together to plan a food drive to support the food insecure in our community. Since that time, the students have collected two rounds of food, as well as items needed for animals at the Humane Society. 

On Friday, the High School had a virtual prom. The officers of the HS Student Council sent each student individually curated and personalized invitations along with mini bundt cakes to be enjoyed remotely, but together, during prom. 

Helping others is an essential part of healthy development for children. Children develop compassion through acts of caring and kindness toward others; helping them to build competence and awareness of one’s relationship to others. It helps build self-efficacy in their role as a positive force in the world. Understanding one’s impact, helpful and not, is also a fundamental aspect of our school philosophy.

It is inspiring to witness our students reach beyond their personal disappointments to acknowledge how this crisis might be hurting others.

May 3, 2020
Jodi Grass, Head of School

April 19, 2020
Jodi Grass, Head of School

I have been visiting the classrooms (virtually, of course) to see the faces of our students and to answer their questions. Some questions have been personal in nature, “What is the name of that cat I can see behind you?” “What is your favorite color?” “What do you miss most about being at school?” The most prevalent question, however, has been, “When are we returning to campus?”

I don’t know when we will return to campus, but as soon as it is safe for any local school to return to a physical campus, Oak Grove will be returning to ours. In the meantime, we will continue to offer the most comprehensive remote program possible to our students. We will continue to invite feedback from parents and students and to thoughtfully incorporate that feedback into the program.

Since none of us (students, parents, teachers, staff) chose remote schooling, it will never be ideal. What we have been able to provide, however, is truly astonishing. Our teachers, with the active support of our Program Directors, Ron, Russ, Laurie, and the Director of Teaching and Learning, Meredy, have performed a herculean effort to shift quickly to a remote platform. This meant that we missed Spring Break. I have often heard from our tireless staff, “This is the hardest I have worked in my lifetime.”

What is most remarkable, however, is the commitment of the entire Oak Grove team. Not one of our teachers or administrators had to be compelled to do this extra work. Not one had to be enticed to do additional professional development or to learn new technologies in the evenings and over the weekends. Not one administrator had to be coerced to attend online meetings, workshops, strategy courses, and seminars offered by the National Association of Independent Schools, the California Association of Independent Schools, or the California Teacher Development Collaborative. Hours have been spent looking, researching, dialoguing, and re-assessing to deliver academic content, connection, and a safe container to our students and their parents.

I am humbled by our teachers and staff’s deep commitment to our students, to this community. I am also grateful to many of our parents and students who have offered their gratitude and acknowledgment of these efforts.

It is my job to do everything within my power to support these incredible people, to ensure a safe return to campus, and to ensure that our school and the community remain strong and intact. I remain committed to and inspired by our truly unique community.

When there is love there is consideration, not only for the children but for every human being. Unless we are deeply touched by the problem, we will never find the right way of education.

Krishnamurti
Education and the Significance of Life

March 18, 2020

Dear Friends,

One of the benefits of community is that we may be there for each other in challenging times. Clearly this is one of those moments. As Board Members and stewards of the school, we applaud and respect our administration’s commitment to the health and safety of students and staff while maintaining focus upon providing students with quality education. Teachers have been working diligently to create content and provide distance learning experiences which will continue to meet grade-appropriate learning objectives. The administration has been actively monitoring updates from CAIS, NAIS, WHO, CDC, and with fellow schools in our educational community to ensure that Oak Grove is making thoughtful and responsible decisions often based upon ever-shifting information and an uncertain future. The Board of Trustees stands with them in their efforts with every appreciation for the challenging decisions and Herculean efforts necessary to adapt to challenge and change.

Please be assured that the Board will continue to remain in close communication with the Head of School, Jodi Grass, to monitor the situation as it evolves. As always, all decisions will continue to be made based upon the best interests of our students and the greater community. Being quite aware that distance learning, particularly in younger grades, depends on the role of parent as teacher, we acknowledge that families are an important partner in our work and we send out every appreciation and blessing to each of you who are working together and with the school to support, foster, and enhance learning. In this way we model for our children how a caring community adapts to adversity while reinforcing that great lessons often come in times of great challenge.

We hope that this finds you and your loved ones well and thank you for your understanding and cooperation as this situation unfolds.

Yours in Community,
Oak Grove School Board

Today, we welcome five administrators from other California independent schools, including Lick-Wilmerding High School, Presidio Knolls School, Westridge School for Girls, Village Christian School, and Trinity School. They are our Accreditation Visiting Committee, and they will be with us through Wednesday.

Oak Grove has a dual accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as well as the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS). If you don’t already know how this works, an independent school, through an in-depth review process, is granted one-, three-, or seven-year accreditation status. The process begins with a 12-month self-study, which is broken into 16 chapters covering all aspects of the school, including curriculum, climate, finances, physical plant, human resources, administration, safety, and so much more. 

This is an amazing opportunity. This process assists us in reviewing what we say we do against what we actually do. Talk about mirrors! Even though seven years is the longest accreditation stretch offered through WASC/CAIS, Oak Grove is currently in our eighth year. We were supposed to be reviewed last year. However, on a glorious Saturday morning in 2018, I was sitting at my kitchen island replying to emails, and in popped a message from CAIS Accreditation Director, Mariana Robles. She explained that there were twice as many schools up for accreditation than usual and, since Oak Grove was in good standing, questioned if we would be open to pushing our self-study one more year. 

This was the quickest email I have ever written; I couldn’t reply fast enough! Within a couple of moments, Mariana replied back with, “Wow! That was a quick response! Thank you, Jodi, for being willing to help.” Ha! 

Beginning in January 2019, we began working intensely on our self-study, which included 93 committee members and a 12-month timeline. The self-study itself included 85 questions to be answered, along with oodles of “evidence” like financial data, enrollment and retention numbers, proof of best practices, curriculum scope and sequence, parent handbook, emergency procedures, teacher guidelines, on and on. 

One of the questions in the Education Program section asks, “Taking into account the future world in which the school anticipates that its students will be living, describe how the curriculum is informed by that vision.” This one is particularly interesting to me. Here’s why. Research strongly suggests that current employers and world leaders are looking for people who can solve complex problems with an ability to negotiate on a global level, often through conflicting cultural, social, and political ideology. People must have the ability to synthesize discordant ideas because the world’s interdependence is rapidly narrowing and these are skills that cannot be performed by a computer.  

Oak Grove’s academic program emphasizes critical and creative thinking to solve complex problems; the ability to collaborate with others, which requires clear communication, flexibility, cultural sensitivity, and deep listening skills. Throughout Oak Grove’s curricular and co-curricular programs, which are outlined in the Arts of Living and Learning, we incorporate a climate of inquiry, self-reflection, understanding through relationship, aesthetics, attention, metacognition, citizenship, and environmental stewardship.

The truth is, however, that Oak Grove is not focused on simply preparing our students for the world they will someday inhabit. We are honoring them as they are today in the world in which they live now. Yet perhaps most importantly, we are preparing our students to change that world for the better – not just for humans, but for all the world’s inhabitants. We already see this with our alums, like the ones highlighted in our many publications and the ones who are now Oak Grove parents and members of the faculty.

Krishnamurti once said, “A school, through its students, should bring a blessing to the world.”  This is a radical idea, and at its core, Oak Grove is a radical school. Aristotle talks about living a eudaimonic life, which is living a life of virtue and excellence, living our highest self. This might be similar to what Krishnamurti referred to as “flowering in goodness.” 

What is most significant about this concept isn’t the benefit to oneself, but how living this way is a benefit to others and therefore initiates an endless cycle of reciprocity. In many ways, in living life in this way, one is bringing a blessing to the world and therefore receiving this blessing.

Let’s enjoy this opportunity to share the vibrant learning of both student and teacher here at Oak Grove against the backdrop of beauty and serenity on our campus. 

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.