We’re Hiring!

The Methow Valley Community School, an independent elementary school serving grades K-6 in Twisp, WA, is now accepting applications for a multi-age primary classroom teacher for the 2016-17 school year. The successful candidate will inspire self-direction, cultivate character development and provide authentic learning opportunities through experiential based, student-centered learning. Collaborative planning, thematic instruction, creative problem solving, outdoor education, and teaching experience/curriculum development are essential. Eligibility for WA state certification a plus. To apply, send a letter of interest and resume to methowvalleycommunityschool@gmail.com. To learn more about the school please visit http://www.mvcommunityschool.org.

Educational Choice as a Force for Social Change

Every child, indeed every person, is unique and possesses individual talents and needs. As our culture continues the difficult work of finding the best way to serve the needs of individual learners, especially the youngest among them, one thing remains an essential guiding principle: one size does not fit all.

As the Community School moves toward its seventeenth year in a changing demographic and educational landscape, adapting to meet the needs of our community becomes our greatest mandate.

We have a proven track record in providing a curriculum that both challenges and nurtures the bodies, minds and souls of our students. We encourage them–from the French, to “give them the heart”–to investigate their world and their place in it. Given a theme and a set of compelling questions, they undertake with their teachers’ guidance, projects that inculcate real world learning. Whether it’s the study of flight, or the lifecycle of salmon, or living in a fire dependent ecosystem, Community School kids spend their formative years not just learning but living their interdependence with other people, species, cultures.

Education is the best guarantee we have, the best insurance that our children will shape our world and theirs toward our highest ideals. Investing in education gives you something much better than a monetary “return.” It gives you greater social capital. Less crime, a healthier, more educated citizenry, a more diverse and stable democracy. It deepens the pool of innovators, leaders, agents of change and protectors of our vital resources.

As we prepare for a new school year welcoming new teachers and new students, some as young as three, please reflect on what this little school means to your family, your community, your world. It’s become a cliche to say that “it takes a village” to teach our young. But it is no less true. We are counting on you.

Come out and see what we’ve got planned for the 2015 school year at our open house on August 3, meet our teachers and our kids. We may be small, but we are here to serve those children who need what we have to offer: individualized instruction in place and nature, freedom to move and act and learn with their whole, inimitable being. We are a choice for change.

Cabbage Patch Kids, or Harold and the Purple Cabbage

You might think that a hunk of purple cabbage would be the last thing an eight year old kid would be mad to eat.  But you’d be wrong!

Last Friday, as part of our Locavores program in which our kids use locally grown organic ingredients to make food, we had our hands full keeping their mouths empty of the glowing purple chunks of cabbage that were on their way to becoming sauerkraut.

Back in the fall, the kids and their teachers, accompanied by a parent volunteer, visited a string of local farms that stretch out the road that runs behind our school.  They harvested potatoes, carrots, squash and cabbage, both purple and green. As fall turned to winter, we have turned our focus from fresh to preserved foods that can be made from the ingredients we still have in storage.  In a previous week, they made their own butter.  This week we made purple sauerkraut.

Getting kids involved in making and preserving food is a way to replace the “ugh” factor with the “ooooh!” factor.  We set them up with knives and boards and enough grown up hands to keep everyone safe, showing them how to chop a quarter head of cabbage into bite sized chunks.  The process of turning cabbage into food somehow transformed it into an irresistible snack.  By the time we had enough cabbage to fill a five gallon brining jar, we also had ten purple tongues and twenty purple hands!

According the the World’s Healthiest Foods website,

A recent study showed that . . . the vitamin C equivalent, a measure of antioxidant capacity, of red cabbage is six to eight times higher than that of green cabbage. Red cabbage is one of the most nutritious and best tasting vegetables around — a great addition to your Healthiest Way of Eating.

Red cabbage also provides 79% of the daily requirement for Vitamin K, responsible for bone health, and that’s a good thing for bones that are still growing as I type.

Never underestimate a child’s capacity for wonder and excitement. Putting their bodies and minds to work creating food from raw ingredients provides many forms of nourishment.  It feeds their sense of responsibility. It nourishes their understanding of where “food” comes from.  It satisfies their desire to “let me try,” and to make food that is their own.

This week, we’ll be practicing our recall and attention abilities to write out the recipe with the correct ingredients in the correct order.  At the same time, we’ll be practicing our spelling, sentence making and handwriting skills.  Thank you great purple cabbage for nourishing our bodies, hearts and minds with your brilliance!


How the Butter Spread: Why Expeditionary Learning Works

This is a story that I heard from one of our parents, but I loved it so much that I decided it was worth passing along.

Every Friday, our kids do a program called Locavores–it’s self explanatory. During the fall, as you will remember if you follow this blog, we did a lot of weekly food processing from things we had harvested locally: apples, pears, corn, squash, potatoes.  As we settle into winter, the food processing is also undergoing a change in season.  How do people preserve food to keep in the winter?  Our foodie teacher who has a lot of experience with cultured and fermented food did a short lesson last week on making butter.  In a way, it was a problematic lesson.  Nine kids, one mixer.  A lot of practice in patience and sharing!

But it turned out to be a phenomenally successful lesson, and here’s why.  The older kids wrote down the recipe and the steps as part of their learning–how to write a process.  The butter and resulting butter milk were so delicious, that  one of the kids got some culture from her teacher and led the family through the process at home, following her precise recipe.  Her six year old sister, a student at a local Montessori pre-school, watched.  Carefully!

One of the pre-school teachers has a son, a second grader at our school, and he was so excited about butter making that his mom decided to do it with her kids.   The only problem was that he hadn’t written down the steps.  Fortunately, the little sister who watched so carefully was able to recount the steps.

One lesson, two schools, a lot of kids.

When I taught college in Philadelphia, I taught the topic of food production and distribution for a number of semesters.  No kidding, many of my students, mostly young adults, had very  little idea how food got to the grocery store.  By giving elementary school kids  the chance to walk behind mules as they turn up potatoes, to glean squash after an early frost, to hull and grind their own corn, make bread AND their own butter, we are helping change humanity’s relationship to food.  That may sound grandiose, but to me, it’s just the simple truth.

Spread it around.  “Teach your children well!”

A poem in celebration of celebration!


Potatoes picked from the mule-turned earth.
Squash revealed by the freeze.
Carrots twisted in orange embrace,
and apples, long from the boughs,
dry now in thin slices of moon.
Corn rubbed from pocked red cobs,
pounded in the Colville pestle
carried by the people
every harvest over hallowed ground.

Gunner. Ila. Meaghan. Elliott.
Lachlyn. Asher. Malcolm.
Noah. Keller. Suz.
Hands. Fingers. Hearts.
Earth. Water. Fire. Air.

Gleaning the wisdom of nature,
children, feed us
what you have learned.



What’s the Value of a Community School Education?

It’s been a super rainy fall here in Twisp.  Many a day sees our kids come in wearing their Bogs and rain jackets, and this is a good thing because at least once a week they go off into the great outdoors to learn about nature IN nature.

The Community School prizes outdoor education.  It’s not about field trips in the old fashioned sense of the word, as in going to museums or performances, although those are always enriching.  No.  At MVCS, field trips are literally trips into the field, the place of study.  For us, this year, field is field. Our kids have spent many hours in rain and shine mapping, hoeing, planting, and tracking what they’ve planted where so that, in spring, they will be able to measure their success.

Historically, the MVCS has produced top notch scholars who go on to populate the honor roll at the public school and then go on to the nations’s top colleges and universities, who go abroad and go inward.  Who start trends, companies and families in the region, state and world.

But a Community School education has an even greater value.  We grow persistence.   Seven to eleven year olds who can buck up under a constant drizzle to survey a burn zone, make notes under umbrellas and slog through mud to lay out planting patterns and sow seeds grow into big kids who are comfortable with discomfort.  They are more able to navigate the challenges of learning and life. They are kids with heart.

After lunch today, when their teachers cheerfully requested that they put on their gear to go out for recess, one or two of them said “but it’s RAINING!”  When I looked over at the speakers, I saw big grins and sheepish smiles.  There was the usual bustle and jostle at the cubbies as they got dressed for the outdoors.  They lined up and marched out to the play yard just as if it were a summer’s day. Through the window, I saw their legs flashing by in the brief period of sunlight, boys and girls chasing whatever was eluding them.  They are constant motion, these kids, indoors and out.  They are seekers, questers, explorers.  They are lifelong learners in the making.


MVCS Locavores Program: Eat Locally, Learn Globally

It started on a sunny afternoon picking apples from the KeKalb orchard. Then there were twisted knots of carrots they eased from the ground. There was the frost-beset field of acorn squash from which they learned gleaning. One gray drizzly day they worked behind a pair of mules loosening a field of potatoes. The students of the Methow Valley Community School have been busy this fall gathering local fruits and vegetables to process and store for the coming days of winter.

As part of their learning expedition, It’s Elemental!, the school’s long term Locavores program is giving children hands-on lessons about the role water, fire, earth and air play in the food we grow and eat in the Methow Valley. Pounds of apples have been peeled, cored and dried for snacks when fresh apples are no longer readily available. Those less suitable for drying were cooked down and frozen for later batches of applesauce.

Their work is being guided by, in addition to their teachers, Locavores volunteers, Board member and parent Allison Ciancibelli and Annie McKay, a former Americorps volunteer who spent time working with Classroom in Bloom. The children will spend their Friday afternoons processing squash, grinding corn, and making jam and sauerkraut for a festive Harvest Luncheon on November 21 where they’ll serve the bounty of their learning. The menu of potato-leek soup, savory corn muffins, sauerkraut, fresh pressed cider, and for dessert sweet muffins with jam is sure to please family and board members, their invited guests.  As the light shifts each day toward the coming of winter, it feels good to know that we are participating in the age old tradition of stocking our larder with summer’s bounty!