Back when I was finalizing my Brazil plans, I got a lot of strange looks from people when I would say that I was going to A Casa da Árvore(the tree house) in Uberlândia(a generally weird name for a city). Based on my simple description, it sounded like I was going to some kind of place where Peter Pan might be found hanging out. Now, my time in Uberlândia has come to an end, and although I can’t say that the city has any physical resemblance to Neverland, I do believe that it had a similar effect on me that a trip to Neverland might have. And by that I mean that this was the place where I found my “clan”, my “Lost Boys”, the tiny(and quite possibly the only) hub of Sudbury education advocates on this huge continent. Throughout my time on the road, I have met lots of people and have had the opportunity to pursue many of my interests. But no matter where I went, I always felt like there was always something missing in my life. Now, after having spent a month at A Casa da Árvore, I believe that that something was a connection to a Sudbury community.
As so many people have struggled to describe in the past, one experiences a very particular feeling when walking into a Sudbury school. It is a feeling of mutual respect, understanding and acceptance of the diversity among people. It is one of the only places I have been where children are treated as full human beings who have just as much to contribute to the world as adults. From the moment I walked into A Casa da Árvore, I could feel these sentiments surround me. Even though I had never been there before, it felt like I was coming home after a long, tiring trip. It was great to be back in a place with people who see no difference between school and life, living and learning. And although I was technically in a school, I wasn’t asked to teach any English classes while I was there. There was, however, one word that I was asked to translate quite often and that word was “brincar”; to play. “How do you say, ‘Do you want to play with me?’ in English?”, a group of younger girls asked me on my first day there. Later that day I got asked the same question, but this time from a group of teenagers. And I was happy to teach them that VERY important phrase! ☺️
Although I participated in the Judicial Committee and School Meeting, was able to help out with some cleaning, and had some great conversations with the staff about running a Sudbury school, I wasn’t able to do a lot of the normal staffing duties. As a result, I had more time to just hang out with or observe the students. Although A Casa da Árvore has significantly less students than Tallgrass, it had the same feeling of busyness, everyone working on or doing something very intensely. There was a group of younger girls who reminded me a lot of a group of students at Tallgrass. They liked to spend their time planning elaborate gymnastic/dance shows, painting each other’s nails, giving eachother fake tattoos, and swinging on the rope swings on the patio. Sometimes they would get into arguments or disagreements, but they were also very good at working them out without having to write a complaint or get a staff member involved.
A ten year old boy at the school pretty much divided his time evenly between reading and studying video games. When he was doing either of those activities, he would do them so intensely that he wouldn’t even stop to talk or eat or do his chores(if necessary he would do them while reading or playing video games). One time I even witnessed him wash a bowl with one hand while holding and reading a book in the other. And when he wasn’t reading, he was studying video games. I say “studying” because that is truly the best word I could use to describe what he was doing. He would study 2 or 3 games at a time, watch tutorials about them, memorize all the moves of each player, look up any English words he needed to know(which was a lot) and play until he had mastered each game, character and level. I played with him a few times on my first day, but quickly stopped because I kept losing and didn’t have the patience to keep trying. This particular student also attends a computer programming class on the weekends at a local “geek school”, where he quickly passed up his peers in computer skills and now takes classes with mostly teenage students, which he has has no problem with because, well, he goes to a Sudbury school where students between the ages of 4 and 19 are mixed all day, every day!
The teenage students spent a lot of time talking to each other and the staff with intermittent playful interactions with the younger students. They helped significantly in keeping the school running smoothly by participating in J.C. and School Meeting and by reminding the younger students of the rules. A few of the teens spoke very passionately about the school at an open house one night. They said that they have learned more from being at A Casa da Árvore than they have at any other school they have been to and the things that they learn here(initiative, creativity, social skills, problem solving skills), they actually use in their daily lives outside of school.
I feel very honored to have spent a month at A Casa da Árvore and to have met so many wonderful people there! I hope to see some of them at future Sudbury model conferences!