This past weekend marked the first AEROx Regional Conference at Earthlands preserve in Petersham, Massachusetts. Over 30 youth and adult participants from all over New England and the Mid -Atlantic came together in this rustic setting to collaborate, network, learn from each other and to move the practice of humans as natural learners forward.
Jerry, Peter & Larry at AEROx
As this event was the first of its kind for AERO there was much excitement and as with any first-time event a bit of uncertainty. By all accounts the event was a huge success and expectations were exceeded setting the stage for future AEROx Regional gatherings.
AERO's traveling bookstore
The weekend began with a member of the AERO staff arriving early to meet with Earthlands staff and to get familiar with the grounds and facility. Immediately it was clear that the missions and energy of Earthlands and AERO were in sync. Many conversations with the Earthlands folks followed as they shared their grand vision for preserving the space as it teaches and heals.
Earthlands Folk, Gen, Michelle & Nikomo
During the opening ceremony old and new friends greeted each other and described the path they have been on and how they came to be at the event. As folks continued to arrive, we sat down to our first of many wonderful meals prepared by the Earthlands staff. Meal times were especially lively feeding our souls as well as our innards (which were well-filled thanks to the Earthlands staff ).
Jerry & Wylie filling up
Shortly after we watched the documentary ‘Class Dismissed' which follows one families journey through their decision to homeschool. Jerry Mintz engaged us in a brief discussion about the documentary and some thoughts that arose as a result before we made our way to the campfire.
This set the tone for the rest of the weekend where participants who represented a variety of educational paradigms including public school, free school, unschooling, and homeschooling connected over many important ideas.
One important idea brought to the group by Chris Mercogliano suggests, that "teachers teach who they are" and with that the theme of how that plays out authentically with students continued throughout the weekend.
The presentation topics by Linda Aronson and Sidney Morris early the next morning flowed seamlessly from the night before as Linda detailed the self-directed, learner driven Full Circle learning model while highlighting actual student experiences and school journeys.
Linda leading the discussion
Sidney led us in drafting a plan for growing a local learning resource network that is vital in empowering learners to seek their own direction.
These clearly connected topics gave rise to enthusiastic discussions that spilled over into the next part of the day. The gathering continued with Mark Jacobs and the youth who joined us from the Longview School in Brewster, New York taking us through a moderated discussion exploring the range of learning approached between required curriculum and student freedom.
Jed Stamas rounded out this part of the day with an eye-opening presentation regarding the Eurocentric history of science and how educators can use a well-rounded view of science to explore integrated topics.
Jed opening our eyes to the history of science
While the conversations continued over the afternoon meal AERO staff discussed plans and criteria for future AEROx Regional Events. Interest in these events is growing and will provide more opportunities for the AERO network to expand and have more intimate, focused gatherings.
The youths from the Longview School demonstrated their conflict resolution process designed to encourage moral reasoning, and problem-solving to kick off the second half of the day. The used an actual example as they took us through and included us in the process.
Mark starting the discussion on Longview's conflict resolution process
Kumari Patricia Younce involved the group in a discussion about the experimentation and radical pedagogy employed at Goddard College that results in a learning by doing model. Learning at Goddard is truly a self-directed, learner driven practice that is often a good match for students who have left or have never been a part of the conventional education system.
Kumari Patricia Younce describing Goddard's learning model
Jerry Mintz worked with a small group of folks who were interested in starting their own school or learning resource. The interests varied from a homeschooling resource to a democratic school. The group supported each other with suggestions and connections with resources.
The evening was filled with the continuation of conversations from the day, chats with the Earthlands staff about a possible collaboration, dinner, music, relaxation, and contemplation amongst the howl of the resident Coyotes.
Students & Staff from the Longview School
Our last day was filled with a collaborative discussion led by Lisa Cooley and Leo Fahey. Lisa presented the vision of the Catalyst Learning Network that offers learning programs, support, and resources for parents and teens who are interested in replacing school with learning.
Leo invited us to think about how what he referred to as the Adult, Child and Family cultures impact intentional learning communities and what it looks like when they interact and play out in real time.
The event came to a close with a meal, a wrap-up and reflection time where the remaining participants shared their thoughts and takeaways from 2.5 days, and see ya laters. As one of our friends put it "It was so much more to me than the usual conference." Much excitement has been generated by this event for future ones to be held throughout the country.
Sharing a meal
Perhaps one of the most articulated sentiments is to design future events less like a conference and more like a gathering where conversations, networking, topics and actions plans spring up organically.
I was struck by how easily the event flowed, how the discussions / workshops all fit together though there was no theme or previous discussion about making it so. I was particularly moved by how a group of youths and adults mostly unknown to each other quickly became engaged in learning from, and supporting each other in their goal to offer an accessible variety of learning choices to all.
Discussing a vision for learning
While the venue and landscape shaped much of the spirit of our discussions the success of this event would not have been possible without the amazing youth and adult attendees who brought their passion, openness, willingness to share and collaborative spirit to the weekend
As with any AERO event, I came away from this weekend inspired and recommitted to the work I am doing, knowing that I am not out there alone and that there are places and groups of people out there that have created the space for learner driven discoveries.
|Two Generations of AERO Staff|
I invite anyone who is interested in AERO events to contact Jerry Mintz @firstname.lastname@example.org or Peter Berg @email@example.com .