IT WAS a cold day in Framingham, Massachusetts, when we went to visit Sudbury Valley School. I love cold weather, but that’s me coming from a tropical country. I had never experienced cold like this before. You could spend just a minute or two outdoors and then even if you went indoors, the cold stayed with you, and even seemed to radiate from inside you. I understood, for the first time, what it meant to be “chilled to the bone.”
The school was unlike any other I have seen -- no rectangular classrooms with neat rows of desks, no science laboratories, no manicured signs pointing the way to the principal's or registrar's office. The main building is a large mansion built over a hundred years ago. Inside, you navigate your way through a maze of more than a dozen rooms of varying sizes. There are chairs or sofas and tables in all of them. There was no library but books were everywhere. Hundreds of them lined walls that had been converted to floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. You could literally be in any room (even the bathroom) and there would be a book within reach.
There were no teachers holding classes. In one room, we saw some young kids with party hats. They were busy decorating. “What’s this?” we asked when we peeped in. “Oh we’re having a new year’s eve party!” exclaimed one.
In almost any room, there are kids and teenagers of varying ages lounging, chatting, eating, playing games, or on the computer and other electronic devices.
We met the school’s various staff (there are no teachers, principal or vice principals here) -- everyone is just staff. They do what is necessary to keep the school running and to support whatever it is that the kids need support with. There were those that had been there for just a few years like Charlotte and Lauren and Dionne. There were those that had been there for a long time like Scott and Mikel. And of course, Dan, Hanna and Mimsy, who started it all 50 years ago in 1968.
It was inspiring to see the pioneers still hard at work, still passionate about what they do. Age had not weathered their dedication. Talking to them was so refreshing and inspiring, so real, intimate and genuine.
Framingham may have been cold, but here we basked in genuine warmth that came from loving hearts.
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