April 11th, 2007

ice

Laurels Aren't For Resting On

In Reggio Emilia, Italy, the youngest children are ensconced in a community of exquisite beauty – vibrant, conscious schools, pulsing with creative energy.
 
These schools are the tangible result of a cultural philosophy emphasizing the “hundred languages of children” – the infinite potential kids have to wonder, explore, investigate, express, and co-construct their own learning, in myriad ways.
 
The idea is that kids want to sing, paint, dance, sculpt, playact, move and grow their own experiences – but society, little by little, whittles away at that until we’re pretty much focused on readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. (Or No Child Left Behind mandates, as the case may be.)
 
The Reggio schools act in defense of the primal creative impulse – offering spaces that are full of freedom but also visionary guidance, full of respect for the individual and the community, full of light.
 
We were lucky to find our own Reggio-inspired preschool here at home. But if I’m honest, I have to admit I knew very little about the philosophy when we first brought our girls to the All Austin Cooperative Nursery School. The appeal, to us, was intuitive rather than informed.
 
My first exposure to the source schools in Italy was through a slide show our director presented to a parents' group one night. Jennifer had been to Reggio more than once and she brought me to tears more than once with her thoughtful discussion and evocotive photographs. 

I’m pretty sure it was the articulated presumption that early childhood should be treated with such utter humanity and respect that really slayed me.
 
A couple of years later, I traveled to Reggio with a study group made up of teachers and directors and parents from our school and others. We listened to pedagogical lectures, toured the centers and ate some incredible pasta. (Okay, there was a glass or two of limoncella, too.)
 
I returned home:
 
Wanting to rid my living room of clutter
Promising to build installation art with my kids
And revering Jennifer
 
So where I am today?
My living room has its good days and its bad.
My girls create more three-dimensional art than I do, unless you count laundry piles.
But I do revere Jennifer. 

For the 30 years she’s devoted to our cooperative preschool...for her quiet voice and wry patience... for comforting children (and parents!) out of their separation anxiety.

For leaving her office door open... for listening to what kids say and watching what they do... for continuing to learn, inquire, explore and expand, right up 'til the end. 

For creating the perfect amalgamation of Reggio and Austin, in one small space. One small space ringing with the hundred languages of children.
 
Now, Jennifer’s retiring – leaving our school (a community of exquisite beauty) and our town (ditto). 
We’re inclined to say we can’t go on – she’s that sort of presence. 

But what is truer is this. At the Co-op, she created (okay, co-created) a dynamic model of education – a loving home for children – that is bigger than any one person, and will go on with vitality and respect.
 
It'll go on, we'll go on, and so will she, to fortunate new communities of parents, and children. 

Grazie, Jennifer, and Ciao…