A Scary Idea

Zooming out over the open ocean on the Bay Scout this morning with Chris Maxey, in the still brightening darkness just before sun up, haunted by hints of the Halloween festivities on campus from the night before, we both agreed: it was scary.

When young people are given the creative space to work towards a common goal that excites and motivates them, what they can do is scary, startling, if not downright astonishing. Yesterday,Island School students were charged with the opportunity to plan and perform the annual Haunted Campus for Deep Creek Middle School students. Each fall semester The Island School designs and opens up a terrifying, bio-diesel curdling Halloween celebration that will make the hair on your mosquito bites stand up.

DCMS students arrived in full costume and began the evening with fun and games, bobbing for apples and pinning the broom on the witch. Then, led by teenage guardians of the underworld, they were ushered around campus to visit the half-dead orchard, an insane asylum, a boat house scuba massacre, and the med-room gone maniac. As the night progressed and as sonic screams echoed off of solar panels, I found myself started by the most unexpected thing. It was not Geoff, the head of facilities, running around with a chainsaw that caught my eye—he does this every year—nor was it the ketchup dripping mouths on faces pale with baby powder that stopped me in my tracks, what I was most surprised by was the sheer intensity of energy and creativity our students demonstrated.

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Students had all of an hour and a half at the most to plan for the event. The night before, I had given them basic instructions about expectations about the idea of a Haunted Campus for DCMS. They split into groups and spent about one hour of study hours brainstorming and planning. Then, the day of the event, they had only the time during and after meals to actually design, decorate and prepare their haunted spaces. Then, in a final surge of energy as day turned into night, during the half of an hour after dinner, they put the finishing touches on. They adorned themselves with the fake injury make-up that was left over from our Wilderness First Responder class here this summer, and they were ready for show time.

I hope the images  attached here will give you some hint of the passion and imagination that Island School students demonstrated last night. It was an overwhelming success, the best Haunted Campus I have seen yet, and undeniable proof of what young people are capable of.

Kids today are not lazy. They are not dispassionate or distracted. They are not apathetic. Any amount of evidence that might suggest otherwise is actually just proof that the context is all wrong. Young people need the right goals. They need the space to achieve them creatively. They need activity and engagement and things to get excited about. Yesterday, I watched as students rallied together and performed the kinds of critical skills that educators everywhere hope to cultivate in their students. They designed and created, solving problems as they arose, petitioned faculty for resources when they could not find them on their own, allied staff and students toward a common goal, and all under extreme time constraints. Their creative ingenuity was mind-blowing.

As Maxey and I reflected together this morning, crashing through waves at daybreak, so proud of our students’ success, we thought together about how to translate that enthusiasm, drive, and imagination into the classroom. Maxey looked over at me and said: “Why can’t schools look like that? Why can’t students everywhere do what we did last night?” Now that is a haunting question that we should all be asking ourselves.

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