Most runners will tell you that finding the
perfect pair of running shorts constitutes a special and all too rare victory. As a runner myself, I have experienced this feat only a few times but when it happens, you instantly know because it feels like you’re not wearing anything at all. In many ways, my high school experience fit me like a perfect pair of running shorts; I knew it as soon as I stepped into the classroom and for the most part, I was learning and growing without even knowing it was happening. Truth be told, it was not my decision to go to Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts. My older twin brothers preceded me at the school by two years and were loving their experiences. Chris and Kyle were different though: For starters, they were more STEM-minded. So, how could the public charter school down the street from where I grew up that fit my brothers so well also fit me? I was skeptical, but as a preteen I was skeptical about many things, so I just added this to the list and carried on. Thankfully, my parents recognized the magic of a place where teachers are called by their first name; where the entire school gathers weekly to learn about, reflect on and grapple with community issues; where assignments are called “assessments” and grading comes in the form of a letter on a continuum with an abundance of feedback from the teacher; where state assessments are taken, but where the curriculum goes above and beyond what is being tested. Throughout my six years at Parker, there were numerous opportunities to dive into topics that interested me. At the time, it just felt really normal. Now when I reflect back on it, I realize how this freedom allowed my interests to guide my learning in a way that has truly shaped my life.
Fighting for a More Equitable World
One particularly formative experience was during my 10th-grade year. Student work and progress at Parker is based on portfolios, and I had filled my arts and humanities portfolio with pieces of work that showed I was ready to advance, or “gateway,” to the next division. On a recommendation from my brother, I chose to research and present on the Rwandan Genocide. The scale and severity of this event in history was difficult to comprehend, but it lit a fire in my soul. I could no longer live my life with the knowledge of what happened to 800,000-plus Rwandans in 1994 and not be acutely aware of the injustices in the world and actively fight for a more equitable world. So, in the ways that I was able, I got involved. At the community level, I led the Community Congress (Parker’s legislative branch of student government). I attended rallies for Darfur on the Boston Common and got involved with education reform via the Coalition of Essential Schools. This desire to be aware and involved brought me to Clark University upon graduation where their motto, “Challenge convention, change our world,” encouraged me to use my sociology degree to do just that. And even still, all these years later, it feels like I still haven’t taken the metaphorical perfect shorts off. Now in my own classroom where I prepare college students for what is often their first experience in the professional world via cooperative education, I strive to create a community like I found at Parker: a community where students can learn and grow without even knowing they’re doing it.
Photo courtesy of author.
Kayla Reeves works at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in the Career & Co-op Center, coaching students in the Professional Co-op Program. She graduated from the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts, in 2009. She currently serves on Parker’s board of trustees. She received both her B.A. in sociology and her master’s ...