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The 2020 Peace Day Universal Declaration, as set forth by the United Nations, reads: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” Rather than holding an all-school event on our campus, as we have done in previous years, over the last week our teachers have been celebrating this year’s Peace Day within the classroom curriculum. Although an anti-bias curriculum is woven throughout everyday learning at Oak Grove, teachers are dedicating more explicit time to anti-bias and anti-racist activities and discussions.

Our anti-bias approach to curriculum aligns with Krishnamurti’s directive to examine our own conditioning. Given the depth and complicated nature of the problem, looking at how we (I) actively engage in image-making, biases, and prejudices, it takes courage and vulnerability to confront these issues in an educational setting.

The idea is not that we rid ourselves of biases, which is likely not possible, but for each of us to understand our own thinking. We must understand our own conditioning, how our own biases, our own image-making, contributes to conflict, to the suffering of others.

For children to grow aware of, even resistant to, conditioning, they must feel safe and understood. They must be able to ask practical and perennial questions alike, engage in rigorous intellectual explorations, and nurture the awareness of being sensitive to the world outside them, as well as the world within. Once we understand our own thinking, we are able to see how that thinking can unconsciously guide our actions.

As eloquently stated by John Lewis, “We in the movement decided to actualize our belief that the hatred we experienced was not based on any truth, but was actually an illusion in the minds of those who hated us.” Without justice there can be no peace.

See what Krishnamurti has said about image-making.

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

Sometimes a song, a piece of artwork, a poem can speak to a truth in you and reset your mind and heart in a particular way. This week such a poem found me, and I would like to share it with you. Please enjoy “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye below. 

Also, go outside. It is as good for your heart and mind as it is for your immune system. 

KINDNESS

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things, 

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth. 

What you held in your hand, 

what you counted and carefully saved, 

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness. 

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop, 

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness 

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road. 

You must see how this could be you, 

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 

You must wake up with sorrow. 

You must speak to it till your voice 

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, 

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread, 

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for, 

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend. 

Naomi Shihab Nye

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. 

Oak Grove alumni are just as much a part of our community now as they were when they attended Oak Grove School. Each month we focus on one, keeping up to date with their current adventures in life.

Here is a growing list of our recently formed Alum Focus pages, listed in order of date posted.

 

Mary Eliza Gilden began her schooling at Oak Grove in 1989 and graduated in 1996. She then went on to obtain a BA in Dance, Performance, and Choreography from San Francisco State University. Later she pursued an MA in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University. Mary lives in Durango, Colorado, with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Besides being a mom, Mary is an Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist. Her passions are varied, including dance, travel, reading, gardening, cooking, and anything involving being outside.

Of her Oak Grove education, Mary says:

I reflect often on my time at Oak Grove and am reminded of the importance of relationship and how our relationships (to others, to ourselves and our lives) have a rippling effect into our community and our world. I am grateful that through the teachings of Oak Grove my relationships are founded and nurtured through kindness, respect, and compassion.”

View the list of Alum Focus posts.

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