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1979….Beginning

Posted by on December 31, 2014

The years ’79 and ’80 brought a remarkable group of students to the Happy Valley School: Jamie Grover, Ondine, Denlow, Phil Hayes, Ivan, Amee, Romy, David Forsyth, Gokhan , the Meek family, Colm, Sarah, and Caitriona, Jake and Marion Rupp…just to name a very few. There was also the arrival of some interesting new teachers: Lane Toler, Chris Mellon (who had attended HVS 8 years earlier), Richard Robinson, Dr. Edward Krull…these people would form the core of the rebirthed school. In 1979, having served a couple of years as Director of Studies, I was asked to tea at Rosalind Rajagopal’s home. She sat me down on her blue couch and told me that I was “born to direct Happy Valley School”. “You see, the children listen to you”, she said. I replied “Sometimes”. I expressed that I was more comfortable working with teenagers than with the demands of school administration. Rosalind replied that the Foundation was prepared to create a school board whose purpose was to guide both the school and its new Director. This group proved invaluable, not only to the growth of a young Director, but to the construction of a new campus and the redefinition of the new HVS. Austin Bee, Helen Bee, Jorge Uribe, John Kern, Joy Mills, Raymond Neutra…some of the wisest, kindest, most generous people I have known. It was these people, along with others who later came on board…Anne Brand, Rolf Eriksen, and others….who gave guidance to me and to the school during those critical years. Upon considering the Director’s position, Jorge expressed to me that “Rosalind rides Directors like a general rides a horse into battle…until they either die from exhaustion or get shot out from underneath her.” I had heard this about RR and thus expressed to her that I would accept the job if she stepped back and allowed me free rein to either succeed or fail on my own. She agreed and to her credit and my lasting affection, limited her daily involvement to our frequent walks on campus. She did not flinch (openly) when I allowed, purely for economic reasons, for there to be a meat option at the meals for the first time. I also introduced pepper, which had been banned. The first buildings of the new campus were under construction and there was renewed hope for the school.
My first challenge as Director came quickly. By the time the students arrived in September of 1980, the new classrooms had not yet been given final clearance. We could not occupy them for the first couple of weeks of the term. So each morning we loaded the kids onto the bus and drove down to Soule Park. I announced that this tree would be math, that one English, that one science. Every 50 minutes I would ring an old hand bell and there would be ten minutes of Frisbee and another class. Oddly, everyone seemed to roll with it and the school year was underway, as was my life as a school leader.
That year, or perhaps the next, was the beginning of phasing out the junior high. HVS had been a 7-12 school for many years, but we felt that there was too broad a chasm of sophistication between the older and younger students, so the junior high kids too quickly seemed to adopt the habits of older kids. While the younger boys tended to get “adopted” by older girls, as cute, but safe relationships, the 7th and 8th grade girls were often easy pickings for the high school boys. Yet the bottom line was that we were set on doing a few things well, rather than please everyone. As teaching a good junior high program was an art of its own, we settled on running just a good high school program.
I also played with the idea of starting a separate program just for junior high, one that would be farm based…just when these young people are coming into their bodies, half of their time would be spent outdoors, raising, feeding, birthing animals…doing all the work of a farm, being in daily connection with the earth, with the startling reality of birth and death, and the daily responsibility of caring for other lives. At least I believed that this is what the average 7th-8th grader needed, rather than keeping their emerging bodies confined to a classroom and a desk….but perhaps that is for my next lifetime. For that moment, it was all we could do to breathe the Happy Valley School back to life, to ground it in what made it once good and to set it on a course for whatever was to come. I have such fond memories of those people and those times and such gratitude for what was shared and those who shared it. Blessings on each of them.

One Response to 1979….Beginning

  1. Kyra

    I love these writings

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