I hope that this blog can serve a 'who we are' and 'what are we doing' function as the school moves forward. For now, I hope that it can serve the 'who am I' and 'where are we at the in the process' function.
To start with, my name is Cammie Justus-Smith and I am the founder of E.C. Stanton Community School. I am currently an educator in the DFW area and have spent the past nine years teaching science in public schools. I did pretty well as far as school goes: graduated top 10% of my high school class, got awards and recognitions while there, attended the University of Virginia earning an undergraduate and graduate degree, and successfully started my grown-up job as a full time teacher. Despite doing well in this system I almost always hated my time there. It was a thing I was good at much more than it was a thing I enjoyed doing. But I was so good at it that I couldn't really envision my life without school. So, I became a teacher. Don't get me wrong, I really do like most parts of my job. I love my students and respect most of my peers. Getting to know these people every day is a great joy to me. I love sharing science and animals with my students. And I can't get enough of that lightbulb moment when students finally grasp a hard concept or ask me a challenging question or delve deep into the workings of our world for the first time. But despite my own best attempts at making school better within my own classroom (more flexibility, more engagement, less fear), the struggle to continue within a system that blatantly oppresses children is a little more than I can bear. Enter E.C. Stanton Community School.
Through my path of discovering what helps students learn best, unschooling practices, and reading the works of Dr. Peter Grey and John Taylor Gatto I realized that really what we need is to put education back into our children's hands. Learning needs to be more student-controlled, student-directed, student-led, student-managed, student-created, and student-driven. However, this type of learning does not lend itself to the traditional model very well. This type of learning at times is too loud, chaotic, and bold for a teacher managed classroom. It is too individual, untestable, and creative to be state-mandated. It is also too visceral, mercurial, and informal to be scheduled out hour by hour. It just cannot exist within the system that is currently responsible for content distribution. And while any efforts to impart some of it into traditional education are noble, the traditional education system just can't allow the same freedom that this type of learning requires. Hearing about democratic schools for the first time was as if I was having the brightest lightbulb moment of my life. All of the things I knew from my personal experiences, reading, and research all suddenly clicked into place. When I actually went to visit one for the first time I felt like my mind might explode from all the possibilities and what it could mean for students. It was as if all the things in my life had led me to this place and it finally all made sense.
So here I am, in the planning stages for E. C. Stanton Community School. We have solidified a location (First Jefferson Unitarian Church in Fort Worth Texas). They have classrooms, a kitchen, a fenced in playground, green space, gardening space, a short walk to the YMCA, and are directly across the street from a playground getting a huge facelift. They have agreed to reasonable rent so that we can afford to pay for insurance, supplies, and living wages for staff with a fairly small starting class size.
We have all of the posibilities, now we just need to get our students! We are currently recruiting families of all types to be a part of our community. Students ages 5-15 are welcome! If you want more information or to start a conversation about how this model might work for your child, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org!