The time of early adolescence brings about a significant amount of change–biologically speaking as individuals begin to enter into puberty, but also in their process of critically contemplating the ideals that have been instilled in them during their childhood, as well as the vast world around them. “The ‘cure’ for critical attitude is experience. Ideals, by definition, are not real. They are perfect possibilities. But real systems and people are never perfect. Adolescent idealists are not yet familiar with the enormous complexity of putting ideas into action and with the actual limitations of the concrete world (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010, p. 300)”. This critical unrest is healthy, and ultimately signifies a deepening of thought that reaches beyond the environs of each individual person and begins to embrace plurality.
When I look back at my time at McAuliffe, I realize just how often I was presented with unique opportunities to engage with these deep level concepts in organic situations. Not only was I challenged to learn complex material, but I was asked to do so in a way that made the information seem important and applicable to me—a luxury few middle school students are afforded. I was offered a safe and nurturing space that allowed me to reflect about where I was in my life, who and what was around me, what I wanted, and why. The education I received at McAuliffe was about becoming involved with the material on multiple levels. It was a holistic orientation.
At so many critical junctures in my education since graduating from McAuliffe, I have been reminded and reminded again in new ways, of how foundational my time there was for the way I approach the world and my work. Cultural-Relational Therapy (RCT) for example, is built on the presumption that “throughout the lifespan human beings grow through and towards connection. It holds that we need connections to flourish, even to stay alive (Jordan, 2009, p. 1)”. This therapeutic model emphasizes a movement out of isolation and into relational space. This work is rooted in the relationship between connection and disconnection. Genuine community is conducive to positive growth.
McAuliffe, while not directly referencing this theory, embodies it, in its composition of culture that so vividly lives among its student, teacher, and executive presence. Theorists of RCT have illustrated the importance of “culture as more than the scenic backdrop for the unfolding of development; rather, culture is viewed as an active agent in relational processes that shape human possibility… relational development is always completely suffused with social and cultural identities (Jordan, 2009, p. 23)”. The prevalence of the cultural influence on development, leads to questions about the way general educational systems are constructed. Schools like McAuliffe provide a space where traditional educational goals are viewed as no less essential, but where all the many other dimensions of a dynamic and culture focused education are also given clear attention.
McAuliffe fosters expressive growth, by building safe and supportive spaces, and as a result its students are all artists. Not necessarily painters, dancers, musicians, etc. (though that is certainly encouraged if the desire is there), but creative thinkers who have the tools to ask critical questions, be playful, inquisitive and entirely themselves.
The Christa McAuliffe Charter School is one of the most growth inducing communities that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being part of. It’s extremely difficult to imagine the path I may have traveled without such a phenomenal orientation to the exploration of both a personal and interpersonal world. I grew to wonder in a way that I never had before, and pinpointing a single class, person, trip, or quality to thank for that, seems impossible, because each of these factors were all so integral to my experience. Human beings are complex creatures, and these complexities should be nourished and invested in. McAuliffe dovetails a community focused on the development of wholesome worldly experience collaboratively with the young minds that are lucky enough to attend. Good health depends on the harmony of our many facets, and with the support of a full spectrum education, we are given permission to coalesce into the artists of our own definition.
After graduating McAuliffe in 2007, I attended Framingham High School, where I began to recognize how truly valuable my experience at McAuliffe was and how the culture bolstered my strengths and supported my weaknesses in ways that isn’t always present in public schooling. I stayed involved with McAuliffe by participating in some coordination and planning for the first few McAuliffe alumni reunions. The fact that the a middle school wanted to remain connected with alumni and that graduates were actually motivated to continue that relationship as well, is a testament to how special McAuliffe has been to so many individuals.
After graduating Framingham High School in 2011, I began college at Lesley University, where I studied Expressive Arts Therapy, specializing in Holistic Psychology. During my junior year of college, I was accepted into Lesley’s Dual-Degree program, which is an accelerated track allowing me to begin my Master’s degree during my senior year. In spring of 2017, I graduated with a Masters of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a specialization in Expressive Arts Therapy. Since graduating I was hired as a Program Coordinator and Clinician at Jeff’s Place in Framingham, which is a bereavement center for Children and Families. I presently run a grief support group for McAuliffe Scholars who have experienced a significant death/loss.
In my efforts to continue to stay involved and invested, I recently joined McAuliffe’s Board of Trustees and sit as a member of the Education Committee. It feels wonderful to find my journey bringing me full circle, and I’m thrilled to remain even a small cog in such an important machine.
- Broderick, P., & Blewitt, P. (2010). Organizing Themes in Development. The life span: Human development for helping professionals (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.
- Jordan, J. (2009). Relational-cultural therapy. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.