Sue’s News – September 25, 2019

A blog from the Head of School
Vol. 2, No. 3 – September 25, 2019

  • Dean of Students, Sara Hall-Kennedy, hosted OA’s first ever Open Mic Night last Friday. I watched students preparing on Friday afternoon, practicing on ukuleles and crafting headgear with which to raid Area 51 (I can’t claim to understand this one). Based on the success of this inaugural event, Sara is already making plans for the next one.
  • Many OA students joined youth across the world to participate in the Global Climate Strike on Friday. If your child participated, I encourage you to have a conversation with them about their experience, and to discuss why this issue matters to them.
  • New furniture for the Lounge arrived last Friday and is receiving rave reviews from students. 

Coming Around the Corner

  • Back to School Night is tomorrow, Thursday, September 26. Please arrive by 6 p.m. and park either on the street or at the Masonic Lodge down the hill from OA, at 9 Altarinda Road. 
  • On Friday, September 27, the entire OA community will take a field trip to Cal Shakes, the California Shakespeare Theater, where we will watch Macbeth.

Sue’s Muse

Risk-taking has been on my mind this week. The good kind of risk-taking, that is. Risk-taking often gets a bad rap when it comes to teens, and yet the brain doesn’t learn without stretching itself in ways that sometimes feel risky.

Take, for starters, the Open Mic night we held last week. I watched several students prepare to get up in front of their peers and perform something of their own making. One of them was literally pacing around the campus at the end of the school day, getting herself ready for her performance, chanting, “I’m so nervous! I’m so nervous!”

Given that public speaking is the #1 fear in America, her anxiety was understandable, and most of us can relate to it. We, too, would be pacing and sweating, and possibly panicking at the thought of performing in front of a crowd. But this student was still taking the risk. And it was a beautiful sight to see.

This is as positive an example of risk-taking as I have ever seen, and whether she knew it or not, it was all in the service of growth. Regardless of how her performance went, this student stretched herself by taking the risk, and it prepared her for taking even bigger, and equally positive risks in the future.

This is what learning is all about.

The second example of risk-taking I witnessed this week involved the students who participated in the Global Climate Strike. This was a different kind of risk than Open Mic – it obviously didn’t involve public speaking, at least not for our students – but it did involve doing something different, and therefore having to plan and take responsibility, doing a cost-benefit analysis of taking the action, and then following through with a plan. I heard students beforehand check in with each other about contingency plans, and arrange ways to keep each other safe. They understood that they were taking a risk by joining a big crowd in the city, and yet they did it anyway.

Finally, in Psychology class this week, I saw another example of positive risk-taking that sort of blew me away. I asked students how many of them were planning to attend the Global Climate Strike (and therefore be absent from class the following day). Every student but one raised their hand. The lone holdout was peppered with questions by her peers about why she wasn’t going to attend. “Because I don’t like being in crowds,” she explained. And with that answer, she took an enormous risk.

Besides public speaking, one of the most anxiety-provoking things for teenagers is to face social rejection, so when this student spoke her truth, she was really putting herself on the line. And yet she did it. It would have been easy for her to fudge a response and half-heartedly raise her hand, or to divert attention from herself in some other way. But she decided to take the risk by telling the truth. Her peers understood immediately what she had done when she provided her answer. All of them immediately backed down and accepted her statement.

Now that I am in my second year at OA, I am starting to realize that examples such as these are not anomalous. It’s what OA is all about, and it’s what makes it a unique and exceptional place. Students can take these sorts of risks all day long, and therefore stretch and grow and learn because they are supported. This doesn’t mean they don’t feel anxious about taking risks – we all do, feeling anxiety is what makes something risky – but OA students are able to take positive risks because they know they have a safety net in the community of adults and peers cheering them from the sidelines. They will not be shunned for speaking their truth or performing in front of each other, or in doing something new. It’s what we expect of them, and it’s what they are beginning to expect of themselves.

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