Twenty Years of An Education that Matters

It’s a bit hard to believe, but 2014-15 marks the twentieth year for Explorations Academy! logo_20thanniversary_blue_on_white

We celebrated this milestone with a wonderful gathering in our new Lower Level Theatre last week, and it was awesome to see so many folks from the early days of Explorations coming out to celebrate the growth and sustainability of our school.  Over 130 people were in attendance, including alumni, past teachers, parents, former Board members, donors, and friends of Explorations Academy.  Several awards were given out, and each alumnus received an honorary penguin icon in celebration of their tenure as “Screaming Penguins.”

What follows is a text version of the remarks made at the event by Daniel Kirkpatrick, our school director since the inception of Explorations Academy.

Jim Hale, Jeremy Ball, and Clarissa Pearce in good spirits

Jim Hale, Jeremy Ball, and Clarissa Pearce in good spirits

If you show a 15 year old kid some of the things she created back in fifth grade – five years in the past – you’re likely to trigger embarrassment. She might say something like, “oh don’t look at that, I was just a kid when I made that.”  Similarly, if you talk to someone who is 35 about some things he did ten years ago when starting his professional life, you’ll often hear him say, “Well, I was still really young back then…”

I’ve been having that same sensation pondering the early years of Explorations Academy: I’m teetering on the edge of embarrassment.  I almost want to apologize to those I worked with in those early years, when I really didn’t know what I was doing.  I’m not going to apologize, but I’m tempted.

Back then, we were young and energetic and wrestling with very basic questions about how to run a school, like “how do your manage to pay your teachers a living wage?”  Now, we’re older and wiser, and dealing with much more complex and sophisticated questions, like “how do you manage to pay your teachers a living wage?”

Through all these years of experimentation and growth, though, we were running a pretty darn good school.

Three of our early grads -- Erin O'Dell, Dylan Reboulet, and Kai Morrill

Three of our early grads — Erin O’Dell, Dylan Reboulet, and Kai Morrill

So what is this work that we are all here to celebrate?

It starts with kids. We say to kids – we have always said this to kids – “You Matter!  We need your talents, your creativity, & your energy.”  I often tell the story of the time I was asked to distill the work of our organization down to two words, and it came down to these two: “Inspiring Youth.”  That’s really what we set out to do twenty-some years ago – to create an education that had real meaning for kids.

We wanted to truly serve young people.  But we were also looking at the world around us.  What a mess! Economic injustice, habitat loss, militarism, oppression, climate change… being aware of all that, we knew that our work needed to not just be working with kids, but calling those kids to an awareness of the complexity and dysfunction of our world.  We don’t do this to make them depressed about all our problems, but to grasp them, and to figure out ways to address those issues constructively.

Founders John Hatten and Lisa Beck flank alumnus Grant Kirkpatrick

Founders John Hatten and Lisa Beck flank alumnus Grant Kirkpatrick

This is good work.

I feel lucky to be part of it.  I am often recognized as a key player in this school, a characterization which has some truth to it.  But what’s truly amazing is that Explorations Academy has enough going for it to survive 20 years, despite all the errors and fumblings of its leaders.

What has worked?  Two things.

First, amazing people. We’ve been fortunate enough to have phenomenal teachers and awesome staff, openminded kids and parents, and wise and patient Board members, Program Council members, and advocates.

Second, community support. We’ve been blessed with generous donors, folks willing to commit their dollars to the process of helping kids become powerful in themselves and effective leaders for change.

Grayson Kernan and Erik Sellstrom are two of our more recent graduates

Grayson Kernan and Erik Sellstrom are two of our more recent graduates

Two categories of awesome people…  And, YOU ARE these people!

Last Tuesday, we had a film crew here at Explorations. They visited, and filmed, our Music Performance class, our Primitive Skills class, our Printmaking Class, and our Cooking and Gardening class. In one afternoon, they saw a wide variety of engaging, hands-on activities, four classes of curious and involved kids, and several of our brilliant, creative teachers. If that crew had been here 20 years ago, they might have seen an expressive arts class making masks, a Northwest Economics class visiting a logging operation, or an Ecology class studying forest ecosystems.

 

The next generation of Screaming Penguins...

The next generation of Screaming Penguins…

The core of what we do has not really changed. But we’re serving more kids now, and doing so in a more professional and polished way. I’m excited for what may develop in our coming 20 years – we’ve talked about a Global Student Program, an Invention Studio, and perhaps even a Teacher Training Institute. Who knows? One thing that has become clear over the two decades of Explorations Academy’s history is that with enough talented and hardworking people, almost anything is possible.

I feel grateful to you all for being part of this shared adventure. Thanks!

Please stay tuned for more as we continue celebrating the 20th year of “An education that matters.”

 

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